Read General George Armstrong Custer’s Own Words

When most of us read about history directly from a textbook, we have to trust the words printed. That’s because historical figures themselves didn’t write those books. Historians did. And historians are capable of bias. They’re capable of making mistakes. Of course, anyone who wants to be remembered is capable of the same kind of error in translation. But still, we can learn quite a lot from reading the candid words of historical figures when they don’t realize those words will be etched into stone for the remainder of time.

One letter written by George A. Custer was written to a cousin named Augusta Frary during his stay at the Brunswick Hotel in New York City.

The letter reads: “My dear Cousin; The fates seem determined to prevent me from paying long expected visit to you. I received your letter soon after I arrived in Washington but had decided before starting for the east from Dacota that I would [illegible] the opportunity of my trip to Washington + New York to, at least call upon you. I left Washington, for good as I supposed last Thursday, stopping one day in Philadelphia to visit the Centennial grounds and buildings, intending to leave New York last night at 8 oclock and stop over on train at Albion on my way west, but alas for my plans, yesterday I received a summons calling me to Washington as witness in the Belknap impeachment trial before the Senate on Thursday next.”

Sure, this letter lets us know that Custer probably had a penchant for run-on sentences. But imagine what fun it is for historians to fall down that rabbit-hole. Are you familiar with the Belknap impeachment trial? We didn’t think so.

Belknap had a storied career in politics, before which he was a member of the Union Army and lawyer. He served as a government administrator in Iowa before President Ulysses S. Grant made him Secretary of War. He was investigated for corruption by Democratic Congressman Hiester Clymer — a friend of his! — after rumors arose of Belknap’s corrupt practice of receiving illicit trade-related profits. 

In the space of one morning after chatter of impeachment began, he confessed to President Grant and resigned. Clymer continued his investigation anyway. He was swiftly impeached by unanimous vote in the House of Representatives (even though he was no longer in office), a precedent that has haunted impeached officials to this day, including President Nixon. 

Custer was involved to testify during Clymer’s investigation. This testimony was explosive at the time, because Custer had previously leveled serious accusations at both President Grant’s brother and Belknap. He even went so far as to arrest the president’s son for drunkenness! Ironically, Grant’s frustration with Custer kept the latter away from the battlefield for nearly a month — and the first battle Custer would participate in after his return was also his last.

Listen to some of his letters read aloud wherein he describes the mentality of his men before going into battle — and his expectation that they will suffer few casualties or none at all:

What Are Custer’s Most Enduring Legacies?

We speak all the time about the past: how General George Armstrong Custer’s actions affected the conflicts with Native Americans at the time, how different factions responded at the time, what weapons and strategies were used at the time, what motivated his actions at the time, etc. But what about how all of those things affect or influence the current day? He is perhaps one of the most talked about American generals of all time, so what are his most enduring legacies?

Perhaps the most obvious legacy is based on his treatment of the Native Americans. He was brave, enthusiastic, and seemingly fearless, sure, but he was also brutal and aggressive. He slaughtered women and children, as did the men under his command, and he used survivors to act as human shields for his forces as they raped and plundered.

When we look back on the U.S. Army’s actions toward the Native Americans, many of us realize that our ancestors had no right to do what they did — that is, take land by whatever means necessary. Millions were slaughtered through biological warfare. This was genocide.

This stain on American history is the reason why many of us are here (and why many others who should be alive today are not here in our stead). 

Yet we have failed to make sufficient apologies, reparations, or even a show of respect for those who came before us. Perhaps our failures then are the most enduring legacy of Custer and his men, who died at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Those failures have echoed through the ages, and certainly we have yet to make amends the way we probably should. The dead deserve our respect.

Scholars and laymen alike will continue to debate over whether Custer was a masterful tactician or a failed general who should serve as a warning to the overzealous political and military powerhouses of today. But one thing is certain: the legacy will continue to be realized for centuries still.

What Do Present-Day Native Americans Think About The Coronavirus Pandemic?

The severity of the current viral outbreak can best be characterized using past examples. A person infected with the seasonal flu is expected to infect around 1.3 people. A person infected with the Spanish flu passed the virus to another 1.8 people on average. Those currently infected with covid-19 are expected to pass the virus to at least two more people. That means covid-19 is more contagious than the seasonal flu and one of the deadliest pandemics the world has ever known.

A person infected with the seasonal flu has about a .1 percent chance of dying, on average. But the virus affected older victims adversely. A person infected with covid-19 has about a 2 percent chance of dying, on average (so far). A person who was infected with the Spanish flu had about a 2.5 percent chance of dying, on average. Which two outbreaks seem most closely related so far?

The seasonal flu kills around 675,000 people each year. The Spanish flu killed between 20 and 50 million people during the pandemic, which lasted more than one season. The current outbreak of covid-19 has only killed slightly over 8,000 people — but it’s only just getting started.

Governments are taking drastic measures not because they are overreacting, but because they’re finally starting to learn and understand this virus’s potential

Of course, it’s interesting to understand what Native Americans are feeling when they hear about this outbreak. After all, the epidemic that occurred when settlers pushed west into the New World wiped out 90 percent of the Native American population.

School officials in the region know that several people who have been in contact with a covid-19 victim were in the school recently.

Marty Indian School on Yankton Sioux Tribe’s South Dakota reservation has shut down. Superintendent John Beheler said, “We’ll have to start looking at relational ties to the individual and if there are any relatives in attendance in our school.”

He added, “Demographically, we have a situation here that a lot of our kids live with elders and their grandparents, and so we have to take these precautionary measures.”

Sometimes, Native American communities can be left out when financial support is passed by Congress. Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) has requested assurance from Vice President Mike Pence that tribal leaders are not excluded from the bipartisan deal expected from Congress this week or next. The deal should provide immediate relief to many Americans adversely impacted by the outbreak — and hopefully to many Native Americans, too.

Were Illnesses That Wiped Out Native American Populations Considered Pandemic?

Most people understand that much of the genocide perpetuated by Caucasian settlers in the New World was unintentional — it occurred because of illnesses and disease that they brought over on their ships. Native Americans had no resistance to these illnesses. Even simple influenza — the deadliest virus in the history of the world — wiped out entire Native American tribes alongside diseases like cholera, measles, scarlet fever and even the bubonic plague that wiped out a third of the world’s population in the Middle Ages.

Most of the illnesses that wiped out the Native Americans might be considered technically pandemic. The flu, for example, spread across the globe each year much as it does today. We typically call it an epidemic whenever and wherever it occurs, but the reality is that the virus is much better categorized as a pandemic. It was the same in the centuries when Native Americans and white settlers collided.

Other cases are less obvious and difficult to track. We don’t always have access to accurate information for outbreaks that occurred centuries ago.

For those diseases that were not already considered pandemic, there were epidemics in Native American communities. This outbreaks occurred not only because Native Americans had no antibodies or natural immunities to the illnesses, but also because they treated illness very differently than the people who brought the diseases to them.

That is to say that Native Americans believed a member of society could only become seriously ill when the spirits chose not to protect him. That meant that Native Americans often applied charms meant to mitigate the damage done by illnesses. 

Even these beliefs were challenged when Native Americans figured out the real problem: Caucasian settlers. When they finally understood how these diseases were transmitted, they avoided contact wherever and whenever they possibly could. This was made more difficult because settlers also understood the powerful weapon they had at their disposal — and so they used it to push Native Americans off the land they wanted.

A prime example of the use of biological warfare was the Siege of Fort Pitt in 1763. When the Native Americans mounted a failed attack on the fort, they were pushed back. Those who lived in the fort pretended to make peace with the tribe that had attacked them — when in actuality they had gifted the Native Americans items that contained the smallpox virus. This action was hardly an isolated incident.

These epidemics decimated population numbers. Before smallpox and cocoliztli, there were an estimated 22 million Native Americans living in Mexico. That was in the year 1520. By 1550, the population had fallen to about 3 million.

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.