July, 2023

Home | About | Brags | Submissions | Books | Writing Tips | Donate | Links

Issue #166

Welcome, Western Fans!

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
You're at the right place.


Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

The Endless Rocky Road
by Christian Surgenor
As the world moves in a new direction, and the difficulties of life mount, a struggling goat farmer must find what is truly important—and move forward down the Endless Rocky Road.

* * *

A Fate Worse Than Death
by John Porter
Mary Lou was raped, and the townsfolk shunned her. Thank goodness for Mrs. McCoy, who gave her a special dress to wear on her first night at the Last Chance Saloon. Will she find a man there who will care for her?

* * *

Stampede, Part 1 of 3
by John Robinson
Stampede is a serialized story of U.S. Cavalry officer Edward Godfrey riding the twists and turns of an alternative history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His world view is constantly challenged by the dangers of his military life, as well as some very modern looking political realities.

* * *

A Dead Man's Gold
by Holly Seal Kunicki
While on a mining expedition, Tom Jenkins falsely believes his woman is about to betray him and plans a terrible retribution upon her. A smart horse and the family dog the help the woman's father come to her aid and Tom soon learns that retribution can go both ways.

* * *

Picnic by the River
by Steve F. Bowder
In 1862, a young Nebraska girl takes her brothers to the backwater of the Missouri River for a picnic and a swim. Once there, the youngest gets caught up in the current. But when his sister tries to reach him, a strange canoe appears.

* * *

Soldier House at Medicine Bluffs
by James Ott
Sgt. Jonathan Masters ignores an implied order to wantonly kill Comanches who broke out of the Fort Sill reservation. He uses untried tactics and gains respect for the band. During the mission, he encounters a boyhood friend, a Buffalo Soldier who pays the ultimate price.

* * *

Want all of this month's Western stories at once? Click here –

All the Tales

by John Robinson

Part One: Tactical Daydreams

San Antonio, Texas. September 14, 1901

Late one warm, fall evening in South Central Texas, Lt. Colonel Edward Godfrey and his wife were startled by a loud knocking at the door to their quarters.

"What's wrong?" asked Mrs. Godfrey. She was a military wife with an instinctive distrust of unexpected messages.

"It's probably nothing," Godfrey answered as he rose to answer the door.

He recognized the enlisted man on the porch as one of the base commander's orderlies.

"Pardon the hour, sir," the man panted. "The General requests all commanders to convene at his quarters with the utmost dispatch."

"On my way," Godfrey said, returning the man's salute. Walking back by Ida in the sitting room, he gave his best reassuring smile.

"Just another staff meeting. They have lots of those here."

He and Ida had recently transferred to Ft. Sam Houston with his promotion to command the 12th Cavalry. After his earlier frontier postings, they were both hoping for a more comfortable life together. Not a good time for war with Spain, he thought wryly to himself.

Ten minutes later, the ring of murmuring officers hushed when the base commander entered the room. He looked agitated.

"Gentlemen . . . " he began and stopped. Godfrey tensed.

"Gentlemen, we have received a telegram bearing tragic news," he said in a halting voice. "For the third time in my . . . ," then looking up, he blurted out, "Our President, William Jennings Bryan, has been assassinated!"

This drew an involuntary burst of "My God!" and "Oh, no!" and the like.

"He went to an exposition in Buffalo, New York. He was shot in a receiving line by a single assassin, and died soon after."

After a few moments, one senior officer spoke up, "Who would do such a thing? Sir, do you think it's political?"

The General slowly replied, "I don't know. A Booth? A Guiteau? A coup . . . or a foreign plot?"

The room grew very quiet.

"Washington's orders are to stand by and see what develops. I expect you to maintain your commands in a state of readiness, and comport yourselves in a professional manner. We have a new Commander in Chief, now."

Like many in the room, Godfrey had digested more death and tragedy than most people. And like the General, he had lived through the assassinations of two previous Commanders in Chief. But the Base Commander's last words arrested his thoughts with a different and stunning implication . . .  President George Armstrong Custer!!!

Rosebud Creek, Montana Territory. June 22, 1876

Twenty five years earlier, on another warm evening, then Lt. Godfrey was mostly thinking about adversity. The military operation of which he was a part had already spent over a month in the field. He commanded Company K of the 7th Cavalry Regiment. They had set out earlier that day from General Terry's main column on the Yellowstone with orders to locate, contain, and possibly engage the assemblage of hostile Indians that were somewhere between the Rosebud and Little Bighorn Rivers.

The regiment only made twelve miles up the Rosebud before camping that first evening. The assignment promised to be a very long, hard ride. The responsibility of taking care of his men, horses, and pack mules on this journey was challenging enough. Although Godfrey wouldn't admit it to his fellow officers, or even his own journal, he felt worn out.

The mood was about to get heavier. George Custer, his flamboyant regimental commander, sounded an officer's call after supper. As Custer relayed orders and directions, his officers were struck by his uncharacteristic lack of self-assuredness. His explanation of their mission even included a solicitation of their feedback and counsel, something he never did. By the end of the meeting, the tone had shifted from somber to depressing. It was one thing if the invocation of "Custer's Luck" meant putting all their lives at risk. It was perhaps worse if Custer had adopted a "Lost Cause" attitude before the fact.

Was it just the dangerous prospect of finding thousands of warriors? Or, wondered Godfrey, did something else happen back in General Terry's headquarters to un-nerve Custer? Was it the fear of failure, of not being able to prevent the hostiles from scattering? At any rate, the meeting had a negative effect on all the officers. As they made their way back to their companies, Lt. Wallace broke the silence.

"Godfrey," he said, "I believe General Custer is going to be killed."

"Why? Wallace," Godfrey replied, "what makes you think so?"

"Because," Wallace answered, "I have never heard Custer talk in that way before."

Wolf Mountains, Montana Territory. June 24-25, 1876

The moodiness and fatigue progressed along with the regiment, which had covered a grueling seventy miles in two days. Now, in the early morning hours of June 25, they tried to rest in the badlands that divided the Rosebud and Little Bighorn valleys.

Following the Indian trail up the Rosebud had brought increasing evidence that the Indian encampment was large and growing. This fed the fears of some in the regiment, perhaps none more than the Crow, Ree, and civilian scouts. The depressing gloom persisted among many of the officers. Custer, for his part, seemed a little bit like his old self.

Godfrey, for his part, had more than enough to occupy him in taking care of his company's needs. Commanding a cavalry company, like winning a war, is mostly a matter of logistical planning and management of supplies, animals, and the men. Supervising the packing, transporting, and rationing of grain and fodder for the animals was a huge daily chore. All the smells, filth, and dangers of working in a barn, without the benefit of a barn, thought Godfrey.

There were also passing along orders, maintaining discipline, resolving conflicts, and the like. "Like being a father to an extended family of impoverished delinquents," a senior captain had once groused to him. Just the other night, two privates in Godfrey's own company had pushed the captain's critique to the extreme.

Private Gibbs, who hailed from Manchester, England had gotten into a political disagreement with his tent mate, Private Foley, a fiery red-head from Dublin, Ireland. The conflict led to insults, and then to blows. At this point the ruckus had drawn enough troopers around to separate the two men and prevent anything worse.

Godfrey was inwardly flabbergasted as he and his sergeants straightened out the matter. How could these two jackeens have the energy for old world enmities? You want to go at each other now, he thought, when General Iron Butt is leading you straight into the fight of your bloody lives! "Mortify yourself, Cadet Godfrey," interjected a familiar inner voice. "The only thing that isn't worthless is to live this life out truthfully and rightly. And be patient with those who don't." But whom, Godfrey's mind retorted, did the latter really include?

The grind of chores and personnel matters punctuated a tedious day of riding in choking dust in the baking summer heat. Godfrey's method for handling the fatigue and monotony was to mull over matters of military science. "An army travels on its stomach," he reminded his sergeants, quoting Napoleon from his West Point studies. And as the dreary hours passed in the saddle, this had lately led to random free associations of his logistical problems, compared to his native adversaries. He imagined his West Point instructors comparing and contrasting how a cavalry company carries food for both horses and men.

"An Indian village also uses ponies to transport baggage and food stores. And they depend on their ponies to locate fresh grass and game. Cadet Godfrey, how will this information shape your battle tactics?"

"Lieutenant?" the sergeant asked again.

"What? I mean, yes, what is it, sergeant?"

His mental wanderings were a pleasant distraction. So much of what he learned at West Point did not apply out here in the real West. But you still had to have a plan. General Terry has a plan, thought Godfrey, hoping it was the right one. This three-pronged pincer movement was big and comprehensive, and it balanced out Custer's tactical focus. A real one-trick pony, thought Godfrey, thinking back to the Washita battle. Custer could never be a planner like Terry, or the big brass. Custer could never have dreamed up the Anaconda Plan. Now that was a plan. Strangle the South's transportation, cut access to markets and resources. Disrupt the rebels' ability for military movements and logistics. That's why we ultimately won.

"But, Godfrey," Wallace had chided him the previous evening, "You're missing the point. The Anaconda Plan targeted the Southern ports, rail, rivers, and industrialization centers, not the cities, per se. The Indian village itself is more analogous to Richmond, is it not? By your reasoning, we should be focusing on . . . why, the pony herd!" The firelight had illumined his grin. He enjoyed academic distractions as much as the next weary officer.

"Exactly!" Godfrey had replied. "We should be targeting the pony herd. The Indians' ability to make war comes not from Sitting Bull, nor his allied warriors. Rather, sir, it is represented by the thousands of Indian ponies that are this night all nicely gathered up for us in one spot. That enables them to hunt, to fight, to transport, and ultimately exist as non-Agency Indians."

Luther Hare had then made all them laugh by launching into an impersonation of one of their West Point instructors. "So, imagine, sir, if ALL [with the classic sweeping hand gesture] the stores of the Shenandoah, and ALL the Southern railroad lines, plus the Tredegar iron works, were ALL located in one spot inside Lee's trenches at Petersburg. Why, it'd be a strategic gold mine, sir! Capturing it would have ended the war right then!"

It had been Jack Sturgis, the army brat, who had pointed out the obvious administrative dilemma. "Godfrey, you are proposing to abandon the hostiles. Our orders and our mission are to locate the hostiles, force them back to the Agency, or attack them."

Godfrey had countered, "And I am proposing to remove the very thing that enables them to be hostiles."

That exercise had gotten their military juices flowing.

"Stampeding the pony herd allows for a feint attack against the village, which is what they would surely expect, which would buy us time. As we put distance between the herd and the village, their military and logistical position will increasingly deteriorate."

"They will play out the horses they have trying to retrieve the ones they have lost."

"Meanwhile, we remain concentrated while moving away on open ground, so we avoid being destroyed in detail."

Godfrey had been therapeutically mulling over these points for almost two days now. But it was just an entertaining exercise. He had no confidence that his commander was interested or even capable of doing anything differently than what he had done at the Washita. Which meant riding down into that village. He sighed deeply, and then instinctively mimicked his instructor's favorite saying from Epictetus: "The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control."

Now it was getting a lot closer and a lot less academic. By dawn of the 25th, the scouts had climbed the divide and seen signs of a huge village, and a massive pony herd. General Custer and the scouts were still reconnoitering the situation in the early morning light, with Lt. Varnum, and Lt. Hare.

Meanwhile, the regiment sheltered back in a ravine and rested. Godfrey found himself next to the General's brother and aide-de-camp, Tom Custer.

"Good morning, Captain," said Godfrey. Tom Custer was the only one of his commander's inner circle that he felt close to. Although their service back in the 21st Ohio Infantry did not overlap, they still shared and valued that common bond.

Custer smiled. "So tell me, is this how you Old Timers felt before the momentous and historic Battle of Scary Creek?"

"No!" laughed Godfrey. He paused. Might as well put it out there— might be the last opportunity. "The fear before one's first battle is from not knowing what to expect. I fear now that I do know what to expect."

"Well," chuckled Custer, "We hear you have a plan, at least."

"Oh . . .  Well, uh, no, sir. Not a plan. Not exactly . . . "

Within an hour, events began moving swiftly. Some baggage from one of the companies had been lost, and then discovered by some Indians. When this news was reported to Tom Custer, he quickly left the regiment to tell the General. It turns out the column had also been spotted by another small party of Indians. General Custer had apparently decided to attack that afternoon to avoid the risk of the Indians scattering to the winds.

In short order, the entire regiment was on the march, crossing the divide and descending into the valley of the Little Bighorn. The other evening's briefing notwithstanding, those experienced officers like Godfrey did not expect anything from Custer by way of planning until it actually unfolded. Some of them, right up to General Sheridan, thought Custer a tactical genius. He was certainly aggressive. Others, like Benteen and Reno, saw their commander's improvisational style as reckless. Whatever the case, it was obvious to all that Custer's tactical mindset was now fully engaged. The old Custer was back—energetic, confident, arrogant, and brusque.

As the regiment descended, the Indian trail tracked along a small creek that appeared to drain into the Little Bighorn. At this point, Custer halted the column and gathered his officers. He grouped the troops in three battalions led by himself (Companies C, E, F, I, and L), Captain Benteen (Companies D, H, and Godfrey's Company K), and Major Reno (Companies A, G, and M). Captain McDougall (Company B) was assigned to escort the pack-train, which was commanded by Lt. Mathey.

"The regiment will ford the river upstream of where this tributary drains," Custer began. "Our objective will be the pony herd on the western bank. The battalions of Captain Benteen and Major Reno will form right and left wings, respectively. Major Reno, you will cover the western side of the valley and the steppe. Captain Benteen, you will cover the eastern side and the river. You will simultaneously charge the pony herd, stampeding it down the river valley, away from the village. Once started, it will be your responsibility to keep them moving down the valley, no matter what. You should destroy as many ponies as you can along the way, until you reach the Montana column on the east bank of the Bighorn. Take the pack train—you'll need the extra ammunition."

"Your charge and the resulting stampede will raise a lot of dust. That will help my battalion feign a large scale attack on the village, and then we'll follow along behind you, providing support where needed. Any questions?"

"General, how are we to ride for another 24 hours with our horses in their present condition?" asked Major Reno.

"You have your orders," came the curt reply.

"And what of the hostiles," asked Benteen. "Will they not scatter?"

"I expect they will first give pursuit, so watch your backs!" Custer yelled back over his shoulder, as he trotted away towards the front of the column. At least until they realize their strategic vulnerability, thought Godfrey, who couldn't believe this turn of events.

He was close enough to Captain Benteen to see him mouthing something in the direction of the departing Custer. Although Godfrey was slightly deaf, he thought he heard the Captain mutter, "Yes, sir, I'll do precisely that."

Then they wheeled their mounts and rode back to the right wing companies.

Godfrey's company fell in behind Companies D and H, the latter led by Benteen. Moving at a fast trot, they descended the trail in a long column of twos. After a few minutes they rounded a small knoll, and came to the river.

K Company forded the Little Bighorn at the very last. Custer's battalion was assembled there on the west bank, chomping at the bit. Reno's battalion had already moved three or four hundred yards to the west northwest. Benteen's other companies were riding down river just west of some cottonwoods. Godfrey marveled to see no signs of movement or alarm in the direction of the village. As his company passed Custer, the General waved his hat and yelled out to them, "Hurrah, boys, we've caught them napping!"

They advanced at a slow trot. Companies H and D ahead had apparently been ordered to left oblique, so Godfrey followed suit. The river valley stretched over a mile wide, with the river itself hugging the bluffs on the east bank. Smoke columns and the tops of tipis emerged from gaps in the timber, several hundred yards distant. Godfrey also began to see quite a few grazing ponies, nervously tossing their heads.

Godfrey was not privy to when, and by whose direct order, the expected charge would commence. But it occurred to him that when these angling columns turned back north as a double front, he and his company would be brushing very close to the edge of the village. There ahead at last he caught sight of a few women and children running away. But no yelling, no shots, amazingly peaceful. A pleasant ride on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

They followed another left oblique turn from the lead company, and now were riding away from the river and the timber. Godfrey kept looking to his right. He could see tipis more clearly, and a few more moving figures. The column in front halted and maneuvered right face. Godfrey so ordered his company, and there they paused.

Godfrey glanced toward his company and recognized Private Foley immediately to his right. The Irishman looked more pale than usual, and his green eyes were shifting about. His and the other troopers' mounts were pawing the ground, tossing their heads, and snorting. Well, thought Godfrey, if the chowderheads don't realize the danger, at least their horses do.

Suddenly, from behind and to the right, a startling roar of volley fire from over a hundred rifles split the air. Private Foley's horse bolted forward at the noise. The signal! And in another instant came the sharp, clear opening notes of "Charge" which was promptly swallowed up by the avalanche of pounding horse hooves.

"Bugler! Sound the Charge!!" yelled Godfrey. With a wave of his revolver, he spurred his horse forward. And so it began.

The ponies immediately to their front turned and raced away. The scattered animals beyond them coalesced into what looked like a wave. The sound of this crescendo astounded Godfrey. He had been dangerously close to a tornado once, back in Kansas. He had also visited Niagara Falls when he attended West Point. This was much louder, like sustained, rolling thunder.

The valley floor erupted in thick dust. Suddenly a running human figure appeared and vanished on his left—wait, Foley? A defending warrior? Onward they charged through the manufactured maelstrom of dust. A pistol shot cracked near him. And then another. A half-naked warrior briefly emerged from the dust, and Godfrey pointed and fired, and then saw nothing.

To his front, ponies fled by the thousands. A few of the ponies had riders who appeared to be trying to extricate themselves from the stampede. A mounted warrior appeared up ahead in Godfrey's path. The figure wheeled towards the village, but was shot off his horse by an approaching trooper.

Godfrey knew from experience that the surprise and shock of a cavalry charge would send the villagers fleeing, at least temporarily. His green troopers would be witnessing that now for the first time, he thought in passing. Very passing.

The storm barreled down the valley for several miles. Soon Godfrey snatched glimpses of the west bank of the Little Bighorn between patches of cottonwoods. They were clear of the village. Movement in the timber turned out to be what looked like a handful of ponies that must have peeled off from the rest. Being few in number, Godfrey ignored them and raced on.

They began dodging hobbling ponies, either wounded by gunfire or injured in the stampede. Then the movements and sound of the pony stampede began to change. The mass of animals devolved into separate rivulets, which flowed in and around unseen obstacles. Some of these turned out to be clumps of brush, ravines, and low spots.

Onward they galloped for another few miles. The pace was slowing, but Godfrey did not know what to expect. The dust behind them obscured his view. If riders were following him, he didn't know whether they were hostile or Custer's battalion. The safest thing was to push on. Remember, he thought, the advantage of this plan is to make distance from the enemy.

The stampede had now slowed from a cascade to a steady flowing stream. But larger groups of ponies were veering off towards the real flowing body of water. In addition, his own mount was building up a lather with heavy-sounding breathing. He had to take stock of the situation.

Godfrey reigned up and shouted, "TROOP, HALT!" But stopping his horse did not stop his adrenaline. Godfrey had to consciously suspend the fight-or-flee sensation to direct his men. The troop's next actions set a pattern for the rest of the day. A sergeant and squad of troopers were sent towards the river to either herd along these strays, or shoot them. The rest of the company proceeded forward in groups, herding groups of ponies with shouts or gunfire. A messenger rode over to Captain Benteen, advising them of their situation. Godfrey tasked one group of troopers with watching their rear and right flank, especially for any movement of Indians on the eastern bluffs.

Those bluffs and the river provided a natural chute. Benteen's right wing spread out behind the pony herd in a broad front, pushing the massive heard along, much as Godfrey's company had started doing. An irregular pop! pop! pop! of pistols and carbines belied the steady demise of hostile horses. Since they had access to the pack train's ammunition packs, it became clear very early that the easiest way to drive and destroy ponies at the same time was by gunfire. Not enough to stampede them up the bluffs or into river, but to keep them moving.

Reno's left wing had to work harder to contain the ponies within the river valley. Gradually the left wing companies were strung out in a long single file, blocking any movement of ponies beyond the western side of the valley.

Thus the stampede slowed to a march—in many ways, a death march, and not just for the ponies. Different troops would dismount and walk their horses, in rotation. Yet a number of the 7th's mounts were playing out. This left an increasing number of troopers having to walk, carrying their carbines, ammunition, and whatever else they could. These men gravitated towards the west bank of the Little Bighorn, forming what became the "Foot Patrol." A few troopers tried to catch and ride Indian ponies. But the latter were too skittish, and the troopers couldn't ride bareback, so they gave up and shot them.

Exhausted men and horses marched on for miles and for hours, and it was grueling. Few of the men had slept more than a few hours in the last two days. The cavalry horses were playing out. Anxieties rose about being stranded on foot, about falling asleep, about counterattack.

During this time there had been no word from Custer. Benteen had instructed Godfrey to notify him if he saw any sign of the missing battalion. Around seven o'clock, some of Godfrey's troopers thought they heard several rifle volleys back up the river. But they were not sure. Still, Godfrey sent a message to Benteen. It turns out that Reno and Benteen, who were conferring together, had also heard the firing.

Captain Weir of Company D asked Benteen permission to go ride back to the sound of it.

"Denied," said Benteen in an accentuated drawl.

"Major Reno!" cried Weir, but Reno cut him off.

"We are under orders to drive this pony herd down the Bighorn, no matter what. We are in serious danger ourselves. Our own horses are playing out. We can't afford to use them up more by riding back, much less fighting an engagement."

Around 8:00 p.m., with the sun low in the sky, Godfrey's men saw a dust cloud a few miles back, along with some glints of light reflecting off rifle barrels and brass buttons—Custer's battalion. Soon Godfrey recognized a party of Indian scouts, along with Lts. Varnum and Hare.

"Where is Reno?" they yelled. Godfrey indicated the general direction, and off they rode. In a few minutes, Custer appeared with his aide-de-camp and adjutant. After being directed toward Reno's position, they rode on without comment. The remaining battalion took what appeared to be a reserve position in the middle of the river valley, a half mile southwest of Godfrey's position.

Eventually a dusty messenger relayed to Godfrey to press on. Apparently Custer's battalion had engaged and whipped an equally sized body of mounted warriors. The Indians counterattacked, but were held off at long range by volley fire. They might now be falling back to the village, but nobody knew for sure.

The trek of men and animals groped on into the night. A waxing crescent moon provided minimal illumination, but it set before midnight. After that Godfrey's best compass was the starlight reflecting off the river, contrasted with the pitch black of the bluffs beyond.

The main thing motivating the men forward was the terrifying prospect of being killed in the dark by vengeful raiding parties of Sioux and Cheyenne. The exhausted troopers reached the Bighorn an hour before dawn. Here they paused for daylight, attempting to contain their equine hostages within the inverted V created by the two rivers.

Godfrey's brain was numb, and his body felt like a corpse. His dismounted troopers were asleep on their feet, or passed out on the ground. As the eastern sky began to lighten, the colors reflected off the two rivers like a lovely purplish pink corral enclosing thousands of snorting and whinnying ponies in a jammed mass. Something about the coming of the new day enlivened Godfrey a little. He took a deep breath of cool twilight air, looked around. We made it, we actually made it, he marveled to himself. To which his inner voice exclaimed, "Highest marks! Well done, Cadet Godfrey!"

On Monday morning, Lt. James Bradley and General Terry's Crow scouts heard what they presumed was a major battle up the Bighorn, near the confluence of the Little Bighorn. They noted volley after volley, and then a scattered but sustained rifle fire for over an hour. A dust cloud heralded the approach of some massive movement.

After receiving these reports, Terry judged that it either meant that the 7th was fighting a rear guard action, or else they were pressing the hostiles in Terry's direction. The latter implied that Terry's pincer plan had worked perfectly.

Within the hour, the mystery was solved with the arrival of several 7th cavalry troopers and an officer. It was Tom Custer. What he said shocked Terry. They had followed the Indian trail from the Rosebud to the Little Bighorn. But instead of attacking the hostiles, they had captured most of their massive pony herd.

"Are you telling me," asked Terry, "that the Lt. Colonel violated his orders by leaving the Rosebud prematurely, and then he didn't engage or contain the hostiles?"

"Oh, I think they're pretty well contained, sir," answered Custer. "They can't really flee, at least not very fast. They can't fight. They can't hunt. They can't carry much food, or anything else. They may have to eat what remaining horseflesh they possess. I expect they are trudging back to the agencies as we speak."

"And as for engaging, we drew the best of their warriors out onto open ground and whipped 'em good. No, sir, they've been taught a very good lesson."

The color began returning to Terry's face. By the time he had greeted General Custer that afternoon, Terry was beaming: "Well done, Armstrong!"

The later administrative review of the campaign did not change Terry's positive assessment. The Indian village had split up, with most returning to the Agencies. Sitting Bull remained a recalcitrant hostile, but he lost standing with the Agency Indians. The historic native convocation in the summer of 1876 was replaced with acrimonious disunity and mutual blame over the loss of horses, possessions, and the arduous, starving journey back to the Agencies. The generals smiled wryly at the accounts of Cheyenne and Sioux stealing their remaining horses from one another.

The government had achieved its objective while avoiding widespread killing of Indians, which would please the Sunday School lobby. The most controversial aspect of the whole affair was the slaughter of the remaining ten thousand ponies along the banks of the Bighorn. As General Sherman put it, it had all worked out swimmingly.

Custer was the hero, the author and finisher of the brilliant and unorthodox plan. His reputation as a tactical genius was confirmed, as was his foresight in delivering critical information to General Crook. Crook repositioned his battered column in time to engage and defeat a band of fleeing Ogallala Sioux, thus revenging his defeat on the Rosebud with the death of Crazy Horse.

Military and newspaper reports said little of the few dozen troopers who died in the stampede, or later after getting separated from their troop in the dark, or by simply collapsing on the march.

COMING: Part Two—Politics and Other Wars

The End, Part 1 of 3

John Robinson is a Professor of Agricultural Economics and an Extension Economist at Texas A&M University. His formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees in Entomology and a Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics, all from Texas A&M University.

Back to Top
Back to Home