Not the Same
It’s not going to be the same without an insightful article by Lee Silva.
I was dismayed by Arnold Blumberg’s article “March of the Montana Column,” in your June 2014 issue. I believe the general public is entitled to as factual a representation of historical events as possible; otherwise, misrepresentations become fact. One of the first things we read in the sidebar is that Colonel John Gibbon was “a junior member of the Army’s 1876 campaign,” yet he was a full colonel, outranking George A. Custer, who was only a lieutenant colonel. Then we are told the Montana Column was repeatedly described as “a blocking force” in Brig. Gen. Alfred Terry’s campaign orders. That phrase does not appear in any of the four orders issued by Terry on the campaign. It’s also facile to suggest that the results of the Rosebud and Little Bighorn battles justified Gibbon’s lack of action against the Indian camps found by Lieutenant James Bradley. Gibbon was not clairvoyant, and at the time of his abortive attempt to get his force across the Yellowstone there was no evidence the Indians were “unusually well prepared to confront their white foes.” Instead, in his April dispatch to Terry, Gibbon referred to his “camp alongside Fort Pease, where I am strong enough to defy the whole Sioux nation.”
‘To criticize [Colonel John] Gibbon for not arriving at the Little Bighorn in time to help [Lt. Col. George Armstrong] Custer is unfair…because pre-battle the Montana Column was never meant to help Custer’
It is stated that to criticize Gibbon for not arriving at the Little Bighorn in time to help Custer is unfair. That is true because pre-battle the Montana Column was never meant to help Custer. The final paragraph of Terry’s letter of instruction to Custer makes that clear: “The supply steamer will be pushed up the Big Horn [sic] as far as the forks if the river is found to be navigable for that distance, and the department commander, who will accompany the column of Colonel Gibbon, desires you to report to him there not later than the expiration of the time for which your troops are rationed, unless in the meantime you receive further orders.”
It was only after the disaster that the idea of a combined action became currency, and the finger of blame was unfairly pointed at Custer, who, contrary to Blumberg’s assertion, did not have to wait for support before attacking, as the Indians could have been in any number of locations, as Terry’s letter to Custer indicates. For example, what if they had been near the headwaters of the Tongue? Was Custer expected to wait nearby for the Montana Column to take two or three days to arrive?
There are other misrepresentations, too, in the article. The whole of Gibbon’s force was ferried across the Yellowstone on June 24, not the 24th and 25th. Having earlier stated that Gibbon’s command was to have “worked their way up the Bighorn to the west,” Blumberg describes a march for the Little Bighorn, arriving there on June 27. The fact the aforesaid march took a disastrous detour partly up Tullock Creek, then across Tullock Divide, rather than “up the Bighorn to the west” is totally overlooked, which is hardly an accurate historical record.
As to John Koster’s Rain-in-the-Face article in the same issue, it’s a good bloodthirsty tale to excite the uninitiated but completely untrue, of course. Dr. Porter, who examined Tom Custer’s body, stated categorically to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, “His heart was not cut out.” Rain himself refuted the story to Charles Eastman.
Jersey, Channel Islands
Arnold Blumberg responds: I stand by my story and the sources I used. A number of points reader Gordon Richard makes are themselves mere conjecture.
John Koster responds to the last paragraph of Gordon Richard’s letter: The medical examination might have been reported so as to spare Elizabeth Custer’s feelings, as with the unmentioned arrow in George Custer’s penis. A heart tied to a rope was undoubtedly found in the Indian village. The Lakotas were never cannibals, even in a ritualistic way, though they certainly mutilated dead enemies. Why was that heart there?
As a kid I never missed one of those great 1950s cavalry movies with forgotten stars—Battle at Apache Pass, with Jeff Chandler; Cavalry Scout, with Rod Cameron; Drums Across the River, with Audie Murphy; Fort Massacre, with Joel McCrea; The Great Sioux Massacre, with Phil Carey; Apache Uprising, with Rory Calhoun, and many more. It always seemed Carey was the captain. Then TV had The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin at “Fort Apache.” I had my own Fort Apache set. It was great being a kid in the ’50s.
Mineral Wells, Texas
Editor responds: I thought so, too, though my mother sold my fort at a garage sale.