Saturday, July 7, 2012

Day 15: June 28 – Betrayal(?) and a Long Drive

After packing up and leaving Shamrock, the Mississippi Kites seemed to be all over the place.  With much of their insect chow sitting tight, the  Kites seems to have nothing to do except sit around. 


After a short drive across some beautiful land (really), our final major destination of the trip involved what is absolutely one of the darkest chapters in American History. 

In the early morning hours of November 27th, 1868, a village of Southern Cheyennes, under the leadership of Chief BlackKettle, was attacked by the United States 7th Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel  George Custer.  Utilizing a four-pronged attack strategy, the village was surrounded before the sun came up.  Over one hundred years later, reports of Native American fatalities still vary. Custer claimed 103.  Cheyenne accounts are as low as 29.  Some call it a massacre while some call it a battle.  Calling it what you choose, the site is now under the National Park Service as the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site.  (It is pronounced “WASH-a-taw” by the way, not “Wah-sheet-ah”.)

In any case, history does not disagree on the subject of who died.  Woman and children were involved.  That is a fact.

Many stories can be told here. Two things come to my immediate mind.

George Custer.  I won’t call him a hero.  He was not.  (He WAS an excellent Civil War Calvary Field Officer, but that is a different story.)  He was, however, a  soldier doing what he was told to do.  That is how the Army of the 1860s functioned.   It is not much different than the military of today. If you are told to do something, and you do not, there will be repercussions.  The killing of woman and children was not his idea. When he discovered that his soldiers were killing non-combatants “without mercy”, he ended it.  It’s that simple.  History shows this. 

It should also be mentioned, that while many people today see him as villain, his peers also thought he was a giant turd.  The loss of Major Joel Elliot illustrates this clearly.

One of the four prongs of the attack was led by Elliot.  When he observed Indians fleeing east along the Washita, he followed them. His group (over 20 men) was quickly surrounded by Indian reinforcements from a neighboring village and killed.  Most American fatalities on this morning where from this incident.

Concerned with the now suspected increase in Cheyenne resistance, Custer ordered a withdrawal from the field.  A preliminary search turned up nothing.  The bodies of Elliot and his men were not found until a second search conducted weeks later.

He left the battlefield with no understanding of his immediate subordinate’s situation.  He had not a clue.

Sure, some thought he acted in the best interest of the group.  (After all, he would get a taste of what being surrounded feels like a few years later, right?)  Others, even those under his command, thought he was horrible and they let it be known.

To this day, some historians argue that the 7th Cavalry, under Custer’s leadership, was a fractured group of soldiers fighting with (not for) a leader they did not like and could not trust.  Those same historians argue that the Battle of the Little Bighorn ended as it did as a result of tensions that began to arise in November of 1868 in present-day Oklahoma.

In the meantime, as Natalie and I left the Visitor Center, I almost tripped on a grasshopper the size of a hot-dog. Okay, it was not that big.  Maybe the size of an index finger?  Really. Holy crap. Big.  Mississippi kite chow for sure.

After viewing the battlefield not far from the bluff that Custer himself used the morning of the battle, we stood for a moment and listened.  No gunshots. No screaming. Just Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Northern Bobwhite, and Lark Sparrows.  An Eastern Meadowlark, too.  We moved along.

Nightfall has us setting up camp at Robertsville StatePark in eastern Missouri.  The bird sounds in camp where now really familiar again. Ovenbird. AcadianFlycatcher.  No owls. Sleep was good.

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