Is the 1936 Serial ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ Historically Accurate?

As is the case with many pieces of historical fiction, the argument comes into play as to just how accurate the portrayal of real historical events that occur within the piece actually are. Despite what might prove to be excellent cinematography or acting or even a compelling story to supplement whatever events are plugged into the narrative, the debate often comes back to focus on just how much detail was paid to the true history that might have been happening in the background that would either give or take away from the credibility of the film, TV show or otherwise. In the case of the serial from 1936, “Custer’s Last Stand,” the historical accuracy surprisingly saves this piece from utter obscurity as the result of a low-budget project from Stage and Screen Productions.

Despite criticisms of the rather weak and dilapidated story line that came about from the writing of Eddie Granneman and William Lively, the material was compensated for and complimented by the additions put forth by George Arthur Durlam, who would later go on to write, produce and direct short films that provided glimpses into American history for a company called “Academic Film Company.” The menagerie of cast members filling all sorts of roles was actually a testament to Durlam’s historical accuracy in the making of this serial. Whereas many might take the opportunity to incorporate fictional characters into real historical situations, Durlam appeared to remain true to the historical figures who were actually associated with Custer’s Last (historical) Stand or at least the contemporary time period surrounding the event.

Such characters to make it into the film included Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, both notorious historical figures who were gunfighters and lived off the frontier. While historical accounts of Wild Bill’s exploits remain foggy at best, it is undeniable that he was at least a figure of considerable notoriety at the time of Custer’s Last Stand, whether or not he was actually directly involved.

Other characters include notable officers that participated in the Midwestern Indian Wars, such as Nelson A. Miles and George Crook. Even Custer himself was accurately portrayed as a colonel as opposed to a general.

Certain events within the serial also appear to be more historically accurate than not. Pertaining to the empty Native village, the details are argued to be historically on point. The division of Custer’s forces, as well as the details surrounding the escape of Curley, a Native scout, also ring true to actual history. Even references to events outside the scope of the actual story lend themselves well to the historical accuracy of the serial as a whole, particularly with the addition of Custer’s mention of service with the Michigan cavalry at Gettysburg.

While the serial appears to suffer dramatically from the back-and-forth narrative between historical events and the fictional portion of the telling that involves characters such as Young Wolf and Red Fawn, it would also appear that the part concerning the real-to-life historical events suffer much less criticism than one might think in regard to a poorly-done project. Some might say that Durlam was the saving grace to this serial that stood to be overly theatrical with a deluge of poor cinematography and even poorer consistency to the narrative itself. But, at least they were able to incorporate some actual history into the background of their otherwise failed storytelling.

Who Was Comanche The Horse?

HoWhen the small force led by General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn was completely decimated by a surprise attack led by a combination of Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Native Americans, it was a miracle anyone on the side of the U.S. Army made it away from the battlefield still breathing. It was even more of a miracle that Comanche the horse managed to survive the encounter. He was a mixed-breed within the 7th Cavalry that day in June, 1876.

He was purchased by the army in 1868, eight years before the battle took place. Immediately, he was ridden to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, and he subsequently took part in a battle with the Comanche tribe of the Great Plains (part of eastern New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas). During that battle, he was struck by an arrow in the hindquarters (also known as horse-butt). Even after he was struck, he rode with his owner, Captain Myles Keogh, into battle. Thereafter he was known as Comanche. Although he would continue the habit of racking up the number of injuries in battle, he would continue to tough it out.

When Captain Keogh and Comanche rode together into the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the entire detachment was slaughtered. Comanche was not discovered for a full two days after the battle had culminated with the destruction of Custer’s forces, and he was very badly hurt–but alive. The U.S. Army rewarded his bravery by nursing him back to health and retiring him from service.

Because the army so respected the survival of Comanche and the subsequent recovery, Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis issued the order in April 1878 that his health and wellbeing be kept in high esteem for as long as possible. Within the order were specifications that he never be ridden or allowed to work–he was retired in the full sense of the word.

Comanche became a symbol from then on until his death at the age of about 29 in 1891. During special ceremonies to honor the special circumstances, reporters were sent to formally interview the horse. It was acknowledged that he answered in a typical horse-like way: he stamped and tossed about.

He was also eventually granted the honorary title of “Second Commanding Officer” of the cavalry from which he had ridden. When he died, he was granted a full military funeral. To this day, he is only the third horse to be granted such an honor. His treatment is a reminder of the sacrifice not only of our men and women, but the animals who have served also. We remember and respect them all. On top of that, we also respect the superstitions they help pass down.

10 Surprising Facts About Custer

The Battle of the Little Bighorn was an especially trying time for the United States Army, and after it took place we took every opportunity to make up for the dramatic defeat. Although the military was eventually successful (and committed many atrocities along the way), we never did quite forget about this tumultuous battle of the supposedly arrogant, foolhardy man who led his men to the slaughter. Even so, there may be a number of things you probably don’t know about General George Armstrong Custer. Here are the top ten that might just surprise you!

  1. He was educated at West Point, and he managed to achieve the pinnacle of non-success: he graduated last in his class. That’s right, he was a moron long before he was granted the same title for different reasons.
  2. They called him “Autie” because he couldn’t pronounce his own middle name. Even his wife knew him by this nickname. All right–we submit he couldn’t pronounce it as a child, and it just sort of stuck throughout his later years.
  3. For all his shortcomings, he adopted at least one remarkable record: the youngest Civil War general. If Custer’s track record isn’t a great reason why we shouldn’t promote them young, then we don’t know what is.
  4. After surrender terms were drafted for the Civil War, they sent his wife the table on which they had been written. Good thing he fought for the Union, or this might be yet another embarrassment.
  5. He was court-martialed for neglecting his duties after a pair of aggressive cadets got into a scuffle. He was then court-martialed again for “prejudice of good order and military discipline” which is a catch-all phrase that accounts for any offenses against the aforementioned order. Always one to go big or go home, he was convicted on eight separate counts.
  6. One of the more interesting yet lesser known facts is this: he was one of five Custer family members who died during that fateful battle. His nephew Henry Reed (at age 18), his two younger brothers Thomas and Boston, and brother-in-law James Calhoun were all among the dead. Because he couldn’t just get himself killed. That wouldn’t be enough of a family fiasco.
  7. He was well-known for his flamboyance. He scented his golden hair with cinnamon oil. If that weren’t enough, he also wore a red scarf and broad sombrero, which accentuated already noteworthily embarrassing clothing.
  8. You won’t guess who played Custer during a 1940s western called “Santa Fe Trail” that messed up just about every historically relevant fact pertaining to the battle: future president Ronald Reagan. It wouldn’t be acknowledged how much of a failure Custer’s off-screen counterpart Ronald Reagan was until many decades after that. Then again, most of us still don’t get it.
  9. “Buffalo Bill” spent the weeks after the Battle of the Little Bighorn looking for revenge. He found and killed–and scalped–a Cheyenne warrior after a short time. He said it was “the first scalp for Custer.” Afterward, he repeatedly replayed the same event during his career in theater, which helped catapult Custer to lasting fame–for better or worse.
  10. Even though almost everything around him seemed to burst into flame, he was known for having good luck. He was never injured during his part in the Civil War, even though he had no fewer than eleven horses shot out from underneath him. This string was known as “Custer’s luck,” but even that doesn’t make much sense when we put it into historical context. Whoops!

It turns out there’s always more to know about the people we idolize, and Custer is definitely a good example.

What Is The Horsemeat March?

One of the best known military expeditions led by General George Crook was none other than the Horsemeat March, taking place in 1876. It was sometimes known as the “Mud March” or “Starvation March” because of the treacherous conditions that weren’t limited to the grueling muddy landscape. In addition, the soldiers under Crook’s command were so poorly fed during the march that they were forced to slaughter their own horses in order to find sustenance.

It didn’t stop them from their mission, which was to hunt down a group of Sioux Native Americans who expected fierce fighting in response to the slaughter at the Battle of Little Bighorn, an embarrassing U.S. defeat. It took a full two months before the Sioux were even followed, and they had made up a lot of ground during that time. When Custer and many of his men were killed, the Native Americans took everything they could find. The U.S. army needed a win, and they were hoping that this march–the Horsemeat March–would lead them to that victory. They couldn’t slow down for a single second, or the hunted Native Americans might escape.

A surgeon of the United States Army, Dr. Bennett A. Clements, took the opportunity during the Horsemeat March and Battle of Slim Buttes to report everything he experienced by writing it all down in the form of a diary. It was through this diary that we know what the conditions were like. General Crook was considered peerless among U.S. generals, but in his quest to track down the Native American Sioux, he lost a huge number of his own troops to disease and starvation, a form of medical malpractice in NYC

The march finally ended by September 8th, when troops stumbled upon an Oglala encampment in Slim Buttes, South Dakota.

They didn’t hesitate to strike.

At daybreak on September 9th, about 150 men trampled through the encampment under the command of Captain Anson Mills. This Battle of Slim Buttes resulted in a stunning Native American rout, and resulted in the long-sought American victory.

Crook was able to resupply with an enormous amount of Native American stockpiled dried meat. In addition, about 37 Oglala warriors were either captured and killed.

It wasn’t until later that Crook and his forces finally found the supply train they so desperately needed, but even so, when they found the Lakota they opted to leave them be–the dreaded Horsemeat March had left them far too physically and mentally exhausted to continue the chase.

Where Are The Lakota Indians Now?

After the events of the late 1800’s that were so catastrophic to the dwindling Native American population, things have not gotten much better. The Native Americans were pushed onto reservations, and that’s where many of them have stayed. There, out of sight, many of their rights as human beings have been trampled as well. Even so, the various groups who live in these reservations aren’t always on the same page–and the Lakota Indians are no different.

The Lakota Native Americans are spread across a number of reservations located throughout South Dakota. Many are at the Rosebud Indian Reservation, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the Lower Brule Indian Reservation, the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, and the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Even so, they have also since spread to other state reservations as well. You can find a few living in the Fort Peck Indian Reservation of Montana. In addition, they’re in smaller numbers at Saskatchewan and Manitoba and the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and even in Denver.

Not all of the remaining Lakota live here in the U.S. Many found sanctuary in Canada after they were pushed to U.S. reservations during the skirmishes of the 1800s.

In late 2007, a group of activists marched to Washington D.C. in order to state their intention to end all treaties with the U.S. government. Needless to say, no formal withdrawal ever took place. That’s because the activists weren’t part of any Lakota governing force and had no right to speak on behalf of their own tribes. Other issues have developed involving how to govern family relations when it was alleged that Lakota grandparents were having children stolen away.

Right now, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (or UNPO) hope to continue the fight for rights to Lakota ancestral lands. Even so, it’s hard to imagine they’ll be granted much that they ask for without any real civil rights weight behind them.

The government of the Lakota Native Americans is set apart from the U.S. government, autonomous on its own. They elect their officials to councils set within the reservations and communities where they are mostly populated, and those councils represent the interests of their people.

Even though what happened to the Lakota Indians and other Native American tribes was a tragedy brought about by the U.S. government, and the reparations provided were limited, it should serve as a reminder to future generations to not let this kind of terrible event transpire again.

What Was The Battle of Wolf Mountain?

The Battle of Wolf Mountain was fought with perhaps equal numbers on both sides, but the U.S. army is considered the victor in their engagement with the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne Native American warriors they faced on January 8, 1877, when the facts are presented by most historians. There were few casualties on either side, but after the battle ended the Native Americans who remained would have had little hope of evading capture or death during the winter. They surrendered instead.

Had the campaign against the Native Americans been fought according to traditional standards of war from the century past (according to Albany historians), the engagement may have been avoided altogether. Historically, winter was a time to dig in and resupply. This usually helped reduce the number of dead due to disease, hypothermia or malnourishment in the harsh conditions. General Nelson A. Miles would not apply these same rules of war in his hunting of the Native American forces that remained and so the Great Sioux War finally ended as a result.

After Miles had defeated the forces of Sitting Bull and Ranald S. Mackenzie had won the Dull Knife Fight, the Sioux and Cheyenne were all but routed. At this point it was relatively impossible for the tribes to regroup or reunite in enough force to launch an effective counter-offensive. After these conflicts were lost by the Native Americans, it was simply a mopping up effort on the part of the U.S. army until the inevitable surrender was obtained.

The Battle of Wolf Mountain was an attempt to track down Sioux Chief Crazy Horse and around 500 Native Americans he led. With 436 men under his command, Miles marched along the Tongue River valley until he managed came upon the Native American forces. A series of attacks were launched every other day, starting on January 1, 1877 and continuing through January 7. On that night, a massive snowstorm pounded the area. On January 8, Miles launched a five-hour battle that would end the conflict once and for all, using the snow to his advantage.

The Native Americans were tactically outmatched during the battle. There was three feet of snow on the ground, and two pieces of heavy artillery pounded them from a ridgeline above the field of battle. Their horses were starving and unable to carry the warriors into battle, forcing them to march on foot. Unsurprisingly, their attempts to outmaneuver and outflank the U.S. soldiers proved completely unsuccessful.

For all purposes, though, the U.S. side wasn’t in a position to overwhelm the Native Americans either, and so they didn’t. Eventually, the Native Americans agreed to terms of surrender after being promised they would be treated fairly upon return to Fort Robinson. Crazy Horse led them there in the coming days.

Those that went there were not treated well, in reality, and another massacre would soon play out not far from Fort Robinson after some Native Americans who had gone there managed to escape.

The Battle of Wolf Mountain may not have led to significant loss of life for either side of the military engagement, but it was a strategic loss for the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne who were already devastated by the Great Sioux War, and an obvious precursor to their surrender at Camp Robinson in May. The historical significance of the conflict hasn’t been forgotten over time, and the site of the battle was part of the National Register of Historic Places for a long time before the Wolf Mountains Battlefield was elevated to a National Historic Landmark in 2008.

Who Was Nelson A. Miles?

Nelson Appleton Miles was born on August 8, 1839 in Westminster, Massachusetts, and would rise to fame as a renowned member of the United States military during the American Civil War, Native American conflicts, and the Spanish-American War. An important event during the Great Sioux War, the Battle of Wolf Mountain, was sometimes called Mile’s Battle on the Tongue River because of his strategic victory on January 8, 1877. That site in time went on to become listed as part of the National Register of Historic Places before it became a National Historic Landmark in 2008.

His military service started when Miles joined the Union Army as a volunteer on September 9, 1861. He quickly rose in the ranks, going on to become a lieutenant and lieutenant colonel before even six months had elapsed. He was also well known as a survivor of terrible injuries sustained during service after he was shot in the neck and abdomen during the chaos of battle at Chancellorsville. He went on to quickly be granted a rank of brigadier general and then major general within five years, although these promotions were due to actions in battle and therefore did not provide extra compensation.

During the Great Sioux War, Miles continued his military service and married as well. In particular, he was a part of the series of raids along the Northern Plains in response to the catastrophic U.S. defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn. One of the reasons his name became so recognized during these conflicts was his brilliant strategic use of heliographs–movable mirrors designed to send signals using reflected sunlight–along a 140 mile corridor between Fort Custer and Fort Keogh.

After the Great Sioux War ended, conflicts with Native Americans continued into the next decade. Miles was put in command of troops tracking Geronimo in 1886, replacing the famed General George Crook. He perhaps mistakenly put too much trust in his own men, replacing knowledgeable Apache scouts used by Crook with white soldiers instead. He ultimately failed to find Geronimo after a brutal 3,000 mile-long march. Instead, First Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood had the honor of negotiating the surrender of the Apache chief–or, he would have. Miles stole the honor for himself and quietly transferred Gatewood elsewhere.

Miles served up to the end of Native American conflicts, which culminated at Wounded Knee when 300 Sioux were slaughtered–women and children among them. Even though he thought that in general Native Americans should submit to the authority of the United States, he believed the survivors of Wounded Knee did indeed have a right to compensation, and urged the government to provide it after his retirement.

In 1925, he passed away after suffering a heart attack. He was 85 at the time, and in the company of his grandchildren.

The man hasn’t been forgotten with time, either. Miles City, Alabama was named after his accomplishments in life. Although we’re not entirely certain of the fact, steamship General Miles is thought to be named after him as well. There are streets, landmarks, and other places named for him. Because of his performance during the Native American conflicts, he has also been portrayed in film and cinema. Whether any of this notoriety is actually deserved, of course, is up for debate.

What Was The Fort Robinson Massacre?

After a series of crushing defeats during the Great Sioux War, the Northern Cheyenne were forced to give up more and more territory in the years thereafter. Although the U.S. demanded most of them relocate to the Darlington Agency of the Southern Cheyenne Reservation, many could not tolerate the conditions of that relocation and so they fled back home, to the north. This September 1878 migration was the precursor to the Fort Robinson Massacre, a series of terrible events that would transpire during the coming winter months.

A number of Cheyenne were caught during this migration and 150 were sent to Fort Robinson in Nebraska.

The U.S. escalated its poor treatment of the Cheyenne that remained in the northern region in an effort to push them back south. They essentially imprisoned a large number without food or heat, the conditions that led them to attempt escape in January. In typical U.S. form, the Cheyenne were tracked by the army so they could be recaptured or killed. 65 Cheyenne Native Americans were caught and returned to Fort Robinson, while most of the remaining 32 were slaughtered by a much greater force of 150 men.

If that sounds bad, then know that the reality was even worse.

Those 32 Cheyenne were a group of 18 men and 14 women and children. On January 22, 1879, they were trapped among the Hat Creek Bluffs, 35 miles away from their escape at Fort Robinson. After they were surrounded, they decided to entrench themselves in an effort to survive the coming attack. They chose a dry creek bed which would thereafter be named “The Pit” by those who studied the battle.

Although the Cheyenne were apparently given the opportunity to surrender themselves, they chose instead to fight. They fired upon the U.S. soldiers who came at them from all directions, managing to kill several. All the Cheyenne warriors were casualties of the skirmish, while four women and two children also fell victim to the U.S. rush. Eight Cheyenne survived by hiding amongst the dead, but were soon captured.

Of all those who had fled Fort Robinson, only about 10 survived made their way to the Sioux reservation. Up to 64 wound up dead, 23 wounded, and dozens of others back in the hands of the U.S. military.

After the events at the Pit, General George Crook began an investigation into the Fort Robinson Massacre. Command of the garrison at Fort Robinson shifted to Major Andrew W. Evans. Eventually, the remaining prisoners were released so they could make the journey to a Montana reservation. The investigation did little to ease the suffering that had been endured over the long winter months by the Cheyenne.

Many of those who survived the ordeal were charged with murder, and the U.S. government later maintained that it was not liable for the loss of life incurred by the Native Americans. It wasn’t until 1994 that members of the Northern Cheyenne tribe were able to obtain the remains of those who died during the Fort Robinson Massacre. Today, they are now buried at the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana.

You might say remember the Alamo in Texas, and I say remember Fort Robinson!

What Was The Dull Knife Fight in Wyoming Territory?

Although the Great Sioux War began and ended as a series of skirmishes, the U.S. public was greatly attentive toward those battles, especially after the seemingly inconceivable disaster and defeat that was the Battle of Little Bighorn. After Custer and hundreds of his men were slaughtered, the people of the U.S. couldn’t get enough of the news related to the war, and everyone was on the lookout for a big U.S. victory.

As it turned out, the Battle of Slim Buttes would set the stage for a quick Sioux and Cheyenne rout, and the Dull Knife Fight would quickly end the war that had long been waged in the Black Hills region of South Dakota–a war that began with an obviously illegal expedition embarked upon by Custer after he was commissioned to do so by the U.S. army. It ended what were short-lived peace treaties and resulted in at least another decade of violence.

Slim Buttes allowed the U.S. to find its footing with the slaughter of the men, women and children of the Sioux, Minneconjou, Cheyenne, and Brules Native Americans. Not long after, on November 25, 1876, Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie, a rising star in the U.S. military after his service in the Civil War and earlier conflicts with the Native Americans, and the fourth cavalry under his command set upon yet another Native American village in what was to be known as the Dull Knife Fight.

This was the battle that would decimate any chance the Northern Cheyenne had of holding the U.S. military at bay for an extended period of time.

Mackenzie left Camp Robinson, Nebraska with a 1,000 men spread across eleven companies under his command. Complementing that force was a group of 400 Native American scouts who knew the basic lay of the land. A number of tribes were among them: Pawnee, Bannocks, Sioux, Shoshone, Arapaho, and Cheyenne.

While at first glance one might be surprised to notice Sioux and Cheyenne aiding the war effort against their own people, it is important to acknowledge that these tribes were greatly divided between those who acknowledged defeat and sought only peace, and those who wished to continue to fight back to keep their traditions and way of life intact after decades of being pushed farther and farther back.

When the force came upon the Cheyenne Dull Knife camp, it was in the midst of a celebration. That didn’t stop Mackenzie. At dawn on November 25, his force set upon the village and drove out the inhabitants.

As far as battles go, it was not a particularly gruesome one. On the U.S. side, only seven were confirmed dead. The Cheyenne lost at least forty, and many more were wounded. 200 lodges were torched, and Mackenzie’s forces recovered more U.S. property taken after the Battle of Little Bighorn.

More importantly, the battle left hundreds of Cheyenne Native Americans without clothing, food, or practical shelter as they were pushed north just before the onset of winter. This virtually guaranteed the end of any effective Cheyenne resistance, and propelled the sense of pride felt by the U.S. military and public.

Red Cloud’s War

The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 was a piece of legislation signed by representatives of several different Native American tribes in the Midwest and overseen by the lawyers of the United States government. Its purpose was to ensure a lasting peace between the disputing Native American nations as well as ensure safe passage for European American pioneers along the Oregon Trail into Montana, and it allowed the United States to build roads, forts and trading posts in Native American territory in exchange for annual recompense in the amount of $50,000 each year over the course of 50 years.

Due to a consistent unrest among Native American tribes, wars and conflicts shifted the positions and land claims of various peoples in the American Midwest. Apart from providing a dramatic theater for the Native American peoples themselves, it also made for a harrowing passageway by which European Americans would travel westward due to the California Gold Rush of 1848. In response to avoiding possible conflict between the United States and the Native American peoples, the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 was ratified to settle several land claims with many of the tribes agreeing to terms.

However, the treaty was broken almost immediately. Lakota and Cheyenne tribes attacked the Crow tribe over the course of the next two years. American emigrants settled Native American territory in the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1858, causing further conflict as well as a strain of natural resources. Many tribes were displaced, most notably by the Lakota: the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes all were driven out of treaty-shared territory by 1862. Beyond all the intertribal fighting, the United States did little to intervene in any of the conflict, nor did they ever honor many their pledges of the money that was promised to the Native American people.

One of the conflicts that arose involved Lakota expansion while hunting for natural resources near the Powder River area in Crow territory as was dictated by the treaty. Hostilities waged between the Crow and the Lakota until the Crow were eventually displaced from their lands and the Lakota assumed control of Powder River in 1859.

Four years later, European Americans had blazed the Bozeman Trail as a shortcut from Fort Laramie to the gold fields of Montana. This trail cut through territory belonging to Cheyenne, Arapaho and Lakota, according to the Treaty of 1851. The emigration through the Bozeman Trail as well as the consistent competition of diminishing resources sparked what would become known as Red Cloud’s War, named so after an Oglala Lakota chief allied with both Arapaho and Cheyenne in an effort to drive the Europeans out.

Consisting mostly of skirmishes on US forts along the Powder River, Red Cloud’s War waged from 1866 to 1868 with the Lakota effectively claiming victory as well as the lands once appropriated to the Crow in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. In 1868, a second treaty was ratified that established the Great Sioux Reservation and made official the inclusion of the western Powder River and Black Hills as Lakota lands, permanently displacing the Crow.
However, this peace would be short-lived, as the United States would impede on Sioux lands less than 10 years later in the prospect for gold within the Black Hills. The Lakota, along with their established allies in the Cheyenne and Arapaho, would see war with the United States military again by 1876 in the Great Sioux War, only this time with less than favorable results.