The last moments at Greasy Grass:
It is usually assumed that Custer’s regiment consisted of blue-jacketed, wind-burned, agate-eyed, tobacco-chewing roosters who could live on alkali, sagebrush and a little biscuit, and who would gallop across the field of Armageddon without blinking. Partly this was true. But the Seventh also included unbaptized recruits – perhaps thirty per cent – many of whom had not once fired a carbine. Senator Thomas Hart Benton, a Missourian who grew up close to the frontier, referred to these troops as ‘the sport of Indians’. They could not even stay on a horse, he said, but rolled off like pumpkins. Yet such was their faith that most of these innocents thought that a yelping mob of Sioux would retreat faster than the Red Sea when old Iron Butt charged. When this did not occur – when, in fact, their intrepid commander tried to organize a defensive pattern – some of the recruits went bounding over the sagebrush like jackrabbits.
Red Hand, a Miniconjou chief, spoke of the whites with contempt. He said many of them asked to be taken prisoner.
An Arapaho named Left Hand rode up to a soldier who simply held out his gun, which Left Hand accepted. Then a Sioux came along and stopped long enough to kill the coward.
‘John’ is said to have been the name ordinarily used by whites when addressing an Indian. One trooper was heard sobbing this name as though it might save his life.
‘John! John! Oh, John!’
The plea echoes horribly down a hundred years.
That’s from Son of the Morning Star, the brilliant history of the American West written by Evan S Connell, who died yesterday.