August, 2023

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Issue #167

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

Stampede, Part 2 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.

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Woman with Child
by Tom Sheehan
A woman with loose reputation, humbled again in life by one horrible man, finds a hero for herself and her unborn child.

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The Last Days of Billy the Kid
by Chuck Kappus
Everyone Thinks they know how Billy the Kid died, but until now, no one knew why. Billy's relationships with women provide a fresh explanation in this stirring new account by New Mexico writer Chuck Kappus.

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Gold Boys
by Gary Ives
The lure of the California gold fields was too much for three young sailors who jump ship in San Francisco Bay. Striking it rich in Calaveras County wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.

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California Carnage
by James Burke
As the Mexican War wages in California, a greedy warlord seeks to slaughter the last Russian colonials. Meanwhile, the retired Russian trapper Volka has lived peacefully among the settlement for years, and will show no mercy to unwelcome visitors looking for trouble.

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Barclay Always Gets His Man
by Stephen Gaspar
Henry Barclay of the North-West Mounted Police travels south of the border to bring in the Ryan Gang that is wanted in Canada. In Fort Benton, Montana Territory, Barclay teams up with a Texas Ranger named Dolan who is after the same men. The two soon find themselves on the end of a rope.

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All the Tales

by John Robinson

Part Two: Politics And Other Wars

F Street Lobby, Willard Hotel, Washington, D. C. June 28, 1904.

On a hot, humid Washington evening, Godfrey retired to the lobby in search of the coziest chair he could find for his chronically stiff back. One could smell campaign season in the stuffy air. Thankfully not that kind, Godfrey mused, recalling Washington in the summer of 1861. The Democratic National Convention was scheduled for July 6 through 10 in St. Louis.

The Republican National Convention had concluded a week earlier in Chicago. The political skills of his Ohio friends had resulted in the re-nomination of Senator William McKinley (the loser to Bryan eight years before). Whereas McKinley's failed front porch campaign of 1896 had been a tactical decision, in 1904 it seemed a constraint of nature. At 61, McKinley appeared aged beyond his years, in part due to the onset of as yet undiagnosed heart disease that would eventually kill him. But it was obvious to any campaign watcher that McKinley's health was an issue. He could not deliver a rousing stump speech. He seemed short of breath and somewhat discombobulated in regular conversation.

As Godfrey relaxed, he slowly looked around the lobby. He recognized several congressman. Seated nearby was Senator Joseph Foraker from Ohio, who was in conversation with a portly, middle aged man whom Godfrey didn't know. At some point, Senator Foraker had apparently noticed Godfrey, catching his gaze and nodding with a smile. They had met years before in an Ohio veteran's reunion.

Godfrey nodded back, while the portly man glanced over. But then the Senator beckoned for Godfrey to come join them. Godfrey forced a smile and obliged. The two men stood as he approached, and Senator Foraker extended his hand.

"Well, if it isn't the Hero of the Little Bighorn!"

"The Senator knows all too well that the credit goes to the entire regiment," Godfrey replied.

"Quite. Quite. Colonel Godfrey, may I present Judge Taft of the Federal 6th Circuit in Cincinnati."

Godfrey nodded, shook Taft's hand, and they all took their seats. The Senator ordered a round of brandy, and the three men sat for a moment in silence.

"I don't mean to interrupt your conversation," began Godfrey.

"Not at all, not at all," exclaimed Senator Foraker. "We were just discussing the national pastime, what with the conventions and all. Actually, you're just the man I would want to ask. Not to put you on the spot, Colonel, but I'm curious for your non-partisan take on the match-up of McKinley versus your former commander."

Godfrey hesitated. Like Custer, he identified with the Northern Democratic Party, going back to his Midwestern farm roots. The first vote for president he ever cast was for George McClellan over Lincoln in 1864. But he wasn't inclined to share any of that in mixed company.

His mind went to his rehearsed speech. It was not uncommon to be asked about his association with George Custer. It was, of course, much easier to talk about the 7th Cavalry and the Indian Wars. Custer's administrative and political foibles in his latter military career were dicier subjects that Godfrey tried to avoid. Custer's entry into politics only heightened this.

Future historians would characterize the Custer administration as a low period in U.S. politics and governance. Custer was selected and retained as Bryan's Vice President on the basis of being an American hero, and specifically to help carry Ohio and Michigan. His place on the ticket probably helped with the latter, but that was all the benefit Bryan got. Custer was forever selfish and occasionally disloyal. Moreover, Custer's ineffective speeches and public appearances were a source of embarrassing gaffes and incendiary comments.

Bryan's death was therefore a shock to the political establishment as well as to the nation. The Custer Administration was born at the end of the Gilded Age and at the dawn of U.S. global power. In three years Custer had achieved little, for better or worse. Laissez-fair was the standing order in domestic affairs. The Administration was frankly too incoherent and ineffective to garner successful legislative victories such as tariff reform, or relief for farmers, or protections for factory labor. Still, there had been no foreign wars, and no internal conflict since the closing of the West. The one achievement Custer's supporters could point to was, surprisingly, a liberal reform of reservation welfare and cultural policies by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

What Custer lacked in executive achievement, he made up for in controversy. His Administration did not appear to be guided by policy or party loyalty as much as to maintain a cult of personality. The President openly displayed the narcissism and self-promotion that he had been hated for by his military critics and rivals. Godfrey cared little about this, except for the worry that Custer the news hound might follow a flattering newspaper editorial right into a war with Spain.

Populists, progressives and classical liberals of the day all judged President Custer as autocratic. Unfortunately, in Godfrey's eyes, Custer's most ardent and vocal supporters were nativists and white supremacists who viewed Custer as an architect of Manifest Destiny. While Bryan's populism had temporarily united industrial labor with western and southern agrarian interests, Custer overtly appealed to Southern Democrats, turning a blind eye to Klan violence and oppression of Negroes. This culminated in last year's May Day "riot" when federal troops were brought out to violently suppress anti-lynching protesters in Washington D. C.

Another disturbing characteristic of Custer's presidency was the incidence of cronyism and corruption. The most controversial of these scandals were revelations that Custer, his family, and some of his cabinet officials were acquiring interests in Mexican oil, railroads, and agricultural production, in return for granting diplomatic and military favors to President Diaz. The political uproar over this situation had raised questions about the possibility of alternative candidates standing for nomination at the upcoming convention.

Godfrey was keenly aware of all of these failings. The curse of his association with the 7th Cavalry was the temptation to get caught up in the judgements, reactions, and ambitions of others. But in general, Godfrey always tried to maintain a separation between him and things beyond his control. Other than the Tom Custer, Godfrey never cared for the regimental sycophants in Custer's inner circle. But neither had he catered to the complaints, jealousies, and enmity of Benteen and Reno. It was such a waste of time and energy, especially given their proximity to mortal danger, thought Godfrey, recollecting the late Private Foley.

"My experience in martial contests leaves me unqualified to predict the outcome of political ones," offered Godfrey.

"Oh, come now, Colonel. Surely you have an opinion about how the President will run his campaign. After all, you campaigned with him out West."

Godfrey sighed. "My opinion wouldn't be worth much. Politics today mainly involves personal and partisan attacks against the other side's candidate. It's so . . . arbitrary. Anyway, I cannot afford the luxury of such sport. I've always had clear responsibilities to my company, my battalion, or my regiment. Frankly, the deadly seriousness of our business made outside passions and conflicts seem, well, rather absurd."

"Ah, the stoic philosopher inside every soldier. Ignis aurum probat, miseria fortes viros."


"Fire tests gold; adversity: strong men. The author escapes me."

Godfrey was silent. The Senator's words triggered a fleeting memory of Gall. The strongest man on the planet, thought Godfrey then, and now.

"Seneca," said Taft in a deep, resonant voice.

The raised eyebrows of the Ohioan soldier silently asked, "The Indian Tribe?"

"Roman philosopher, playwright, and imperial counselor," expounded Taft.

"I'm afraid my few classics came already translated, by way of one eccentric instructor," smiled Godfrey.

"So, Colonel," the Senator continued," What then if the character of your commander compromised the effectiveness or safety of the men under your charge?"

"Are you saying that the country is in danger if Custer is elected?"

"There are many who think so."

"I suppose every man must decide that for himself," Godfrey said, hoping to conclude the topic.

But the Senator persisted. "Many Union veterans such as ourselves see the current violence and degradation of the negroes as a backward step and a betrayal. We fought to free the slaves. How then can we sit back and sully ourselves with Klansmen and Know Nothings?"

"I didn't say anybody should sit back," said Godfrey. "But every man must work out his own political choices. I would not presume that another man would mentally or morally weight all the issues of the day the same as I would. Yet we both have to choose from the same small slate of candidates. Different weightings will produce different voting decisions." Godfrey paused. "And furthermore, I do not consider myself sullied by attitudes I myself do not hold, nor by actions that I have not taken. That's . . . I forget the term."

"Argumentum ad hominem. Guilt by association," Taft chimed in.

"Yes, thank you," said Godfrey, taking a longer drink of the brandy.

The Senator stared at Godfrey. Godfrey stared back. He knew Senator Foraker had led some of the calls for censure and impeachment. For as much as Godfrey could criticize the present administration, he found the partisan reaction equally extreme and unjustified. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. Maybe they are informed and logical, or maybe not. But to judge them morally requires either omniscience or extreme presumption.

Taft continued, "Interesting to bring Seneca into this. He was a great teacher of the stoic virtues of wisdom, courage, justice and temperance - well, maybe not temperance so much. Anyway, however stellar his personal piety, his public reputation is forever tainted by his being an accessory to the tyranny of Emperor Nero."

"So, you are saying that you cannot be virtuous if you only confine it to your private life," said the Senator, glancing at Godfrey.

"You can only be judged by your choices in life over which you actually had control, whether private or public. Seneca could control what he told Nero and what he did on Nero's behalf. But Seneca couldn't control Nero," explained Taft.

"Except through regicide," the Senator quipped.

"A particularly Roman form of the franchise," chuckled Taft. The Senator's laughter and Godfrey's grin combined to break the tension a little.

"Perhaps Seneca had reason to think that Nero could improve," Godfrey mused through the brandy's warmth. "Perhaps Seneca's good counsel prevented even more bad behavior from Nero."

"That's not saying much," said the Senator

"Compared to what?" answered Godfrey. "Was the imperial heir any better?" The Senator shrugged and smiled, ordering another round of brandy.

"A cup of tea, please," said Taft. "Well," he continued, "at least the current administration is not catering to the populist radicals with their nationalization of railroads and debasement of the currency."

The Senator scoffed, "Bryan stirred them up enough to get just enough of their votes in the states where it mattered. But neither he nor they could turn that into legislation. That's the failing of the so-called populists. They didn't elect legislatures nor senators. Hence they did not make policy as they should have done, by passing laws."

Taft intoned, "The constitution provides for the peoples' voices to be heard, and it isn't through an unrestrained executive or a politicized judiciary. That's where Bryan was heading . . . " his voice trailed off.

"Yes, and look what he left us with!" barked the Senator. "And you don't think Custer favors executive power? He has acted like a military commander, not a politician."

Godfrey was remembering back on Custer's leadership style - no, indeed, not one for collaboration or compromise. Except, ironically, perhaps on the way to the Little Bighorn.

Turning to Godfrey, the Senator asked, "Is that your view of it, Colonel?"

Godfrey answered, "It is well known that General Custer was an instinctive tactician - even impulsive. He did not generally seek counsel in arriving at his command decisions."

The Senator smiled.

Taft also answered, "He appears military in his bearing, but not in his actual administration other than a few executive orders. His personal behavior has encouraged Congress to assert itself, which is a good thing. If there is to be reform legislation of any kind, let it come through the process that the Founding Fathers created. All the branches of the federal government should do their job. Checks and balances."

Then lifting his tea cup, Taft added, "George Washington likened the House of Representatives to this steaming cup, and the Senate to this cooling saucer."

"And where is the judiciary in that analogy?" asked the Senator.

"Why, savoring the essence, of course," smiled Taft, taking a sip.

  LaFayette Square -- Later that Evening

His earlier meal digested along with the double brandy digestif, Godfrey exited the hotel via the F-Street lobby. He walked the block to 15th Street, and then took a leisurely stroll north to Pennsylvania Avenue, and finally a left towards the White House.

With his poor hearing, he noticed the sizeable crowd across the street before he heard any sound of it. His military eye sized it up at several hundred people. Someone was making a speech, but at first all he could make out was applause and cheering.

He must be giving a really good speech, thought Godfrey. He crossed the street to get within earshot when he had a flash of recognition.

" . . . We do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest. We are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned. We have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them! "

The crowd in LaFayette Square roared at this point, and Godfrey recognized the words. The speaker was reciting Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech. Maybe it's the anniversary, Godfrey wondered.

"The gentleman from Wisconsin has said he fears a Robespierre. My friend, in this land of the free you need fear no tyrant who will spring up from among the people. What we need is an Andrew Jackson to stand as Jackson stood, against the encroachments of aggregated wealth . . . "


Godfrey drew closer and listened intently. He had read Bryan's speech enough times that he had sections of it memorized—the less technical material, anyway. The platform of tariff reform, income taxes, and bimetallism was pretty staid stuff. But his military mind had always stumbled over these very points he now heard repeated—" . . . Robespierre . . . no tyrant who will spring up from among the people . . . Jackson." Godfrey's father had voted for President Jackson, and Godfrey had seen General Jackson as a role model for his military career. But he grew up hearing Jackson described as either an American Savior or Caesar. So was Jackson an example of the robustness of, or risks to, American democracy? Maybe both, wondered Godfrey, who now wished he had asked that question of Taft. At any rate, Godfrey's practice was to automatically apply partisan political criticisms to both sides. If we should fear tyranny of the mob, from whence shall she come? From these populist masses in LaFayette Square? Or from a more conservative despot with his rich sponsors, as in Mexico? Or as in the U.S. Senate? Best to on guard from both, the soldier reasoned.

" . . . There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it."

That last statement triggered a Godfrey Family "Hmmnnph!", a doubtful expression his father would make when he didn't really believe some assertion that he didn't have time to think through. Only these two ideas of government? Godfrey's inner West Point instructor might have called it a false dichotomy. Godfrey's views of economic development and welfare were admittedly colored by his farm upbringing and his time in the West. He had come to support the older Whig policies of President Lincoln, whom he had ironically opposed in the election of 1864. Make capital available to people in the form of land, education, and technology, and let them pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Godfrey saw the sweat equity of such policies as a guard against waste and corruption.

Now Godfrey could hear the recitation drawing to its climax. The reaction of the crowd was an audible crescendo of shouting out the final lines in unison.

" . . . Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses [YES!! AMEN!!] , we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this CROWN OF THORNS. YOU SHALL NOT CRUCIFY MANKIND UPON A CROSS . . . OF . . . GOLD!"

Placards were waved and fists were shaken in the direction of the White House. No question about for whom this demonstration is being staged, thought Godfrey. He watched intently at the pattern of the crowd's movement. The demonstration had apparently climaxed and now it was visibly fading. People began milling around near the grand stand. There was a circle of people holding hands, apparently in prayer. The crowd had transformed into many scattered clumps of people. It had been a nostalgic exercise. Assuming their domesticated, agrarian backgrounds, Godfrey allowed himself the rhetorical question of whether sheep were capable of stampeding.

The late setting summer sun had turned the sky a lovely rose color. Godfrey reflected back over the 43 years since he saw his first sunset over Washington. The southern states had all left the Union by then. Secession in succession—the ultimate stampede. With that question and slavery having both been settled by war and constitutional amendment, the remaining threats to civil order that Godfrey could see were short term: riots, urban violence, and the mob rule that Taft fears.

Checking his pocket watch, Godfrey strolled down Pennsylvania Avenue to just opposite the main entrance to the White House. Crossing the street, he approached the check point. The guard on duty was not wearing a uniform. Godfrey guessed that he might be a Pinkerton man since President Custer was using them for security and intelligence. And then it struck him that here was another facilitator of chaos and violence, as during the Homestead Steel Strike a dozen years before. If we should fear tyranny of the mob, from whence shall she come? From these populist masses? Or from an industry titan and his Pinkertons? At Homestead it appeared to Godfrey that it had been both.

"Name, please," asked the Pinkerton guard.

"Godfrey, Edward. Lt. Colonel, United States Army," answered Godfrey.

"We'll need to establish a code name for your visits here, Colonel."

"How about 'Seneca'?"

The guard squinted. "The Roman?"

The Ohioan replied, "The Indian tribe."

  A White House Parlor

Godfrey was inwardly startled by the sight of his former commander. He hadn't been in a room with Custer in fifteen years. Only four years older than Godfrey himself, Custer at 65 appeared aged. He had long since lost his famous head of golden hair, leaving only a round patch of white peach fuzz that resembled a papal zucchetto. His trim physique now looked drawn inward. He still sported a long, white moustache, but the contrast with Custer the Boy General was profound.

"Hello, Godfrey," Custer said softly, extending his hand. Godfrey broke off his salute and took the President's hand. A firm grip at least, Godfrey thought.

"Good evening, Mr. President. It's so good to see you, sir." Godfrey felt a swirl of emotions.

"And you as well. Glad that we could catch you while you were here in Washington."

"Of course, sir."

The President sat down and beckoned Godfrey to the chair beside his. Custer began by asking about the 12th Cavalry posting. Godfrey relayed the major activities of his regiment in the last three years: chasing border bandits back across the Rio Grande, and demonstrating there as a deterrent to revolutionary elements in Northern Mexico.

"Tell me how Texas is," said Custer.

"How it is, sir? To what do you specifically refer?"

"Still the magnificent un-tamed empire?" asked Custer, in a wispy tone.

"Wild enough to meet wolves and mountain lions," offered Godfrey. "Still a vast country of brushlands and hills and prairies." But the ranges are fenced, as are the Comanches."

"That is a shame somehow," said Custer.

Godfrey nodded, wondering where this was heading.

Custer spoke more slowly. "Ironically, I feel some grief over the passing of the West, even as a result of our successes. The Plains Tribes were the freest people on this continent. Civilization comes at a cost, and not just to the Indians. We lost something, too."

Glancing up at the opposite wall, Custer gestured toward some stuffed animals. "Maybe that's why I still enjoy taxidermy so much. Like trying to hold on to a vanishing world . . . roaming free in the wilderness. As on the last hunt."

"Yes, sir," said Godfrey. Is the President well? Or, Godfrey wondered, is this Custer of "Glorious War!" chafing in the so-called Long Peace, i.e., the eighteen years since Geronimo's surrender that U.S. military forces had not been in a shooting war.

"Well," smiled Custer, "I am rambling on like the old man I am. Colonel, what is your impression of the situation in Cuba?"

"Cuba, sir?"

The President launched into a subject that Godfrey and his peers had anticipated for some time—a possible military intervention in the Cuban revolt against Spanish control. Custer basically repeated the case that had already been developed in the printed press: an ongoing rebellion against an Old World European power, and atrocities committed by Spanish authorities against Cuban citizens. And just as Godfrey questioned to himself what might be behind this discussion, the President paused.

"I have an idea for a special assignment for you and your regiment, Colonel Godfrey. I want to describe it to you personally and informally. In order to solidify Congress and the public in favor of a potential campaign, we need a particular . . . action.


"We would assign your regiment to protect our diplomatic and other American property in Havana. While there you may well be forced . . . forced into a defensive situation," Custer stammered.

"I don't really understand, sir."

"We are looking for a diversion, of sorts. Something that will bring the belligerent Spanish intentions out in the open. Then we can openly declare it for what it is."

Godfrey stared at his Commander in Chief. "And what is that, Mr. President?"

"Why, a state of war, of course. A legitimate responses to the likely spilling of American blood, in addition to freeing the Cubans," Custer said more rapidly.

"But as yet . . . "Godfrey began, before a flood of realization stopped him. Why a White House meeting? Would not the War Department just issue the orders for such a mission? And why a cavalry regiment, instead of a gunboat full of marines? Godfrey imagined somehow being offered up as bait for the Spanish, or as bystanders in a crossfire. Whatever was afoot, it sounded dangerous. It also appeared un-thought out, and therefore more dangerous. And then Godfrey's mind returned to something he had realized thirty years before. Custer is, at best, a battlefield tactician. Whose strategic plan was this?

Godfrey's silence and expression appeared to agitate Custer slightly.

"Do you agree to the assignment, Colonel?"

"Agree? Sir, I . . . " hesitated Godfrey. "If you are asking me whether I will follow my orders, I will, as I always have. If you're asking me something else . . . " Godfrey hesitated longer. "Mr. President, I don't understand why this assignment would not have been made through regular channels."

"American interests in Cuba need more security. It's a legitimate military assignment. And if we end up taking Cuba from Spain, it will be like the Texian revolution from Mexico, maybe with its own Alamo and San Jacinto!" said Custer, now excitedly.

Well in that case, thought Godfrey, I would prefer San Jacinto.

Suddenly Custer appeared to switch course. "Oh well, it was all just a thought. I appreciate the military counsel of all my officers. And hello, my dear! Libbie, you remember Godfrey from K Company."

Both men stood. The First Lady was in the doorway, looking very elegant - almost regal. "Good evening, Colonel Godfrey. After all these years, it is so wonderful to see you. And how is Mrs. Godfrey?"

"I am re-married, after Mary passed."

"Oh, my deepest regrets. Mary was such a sweet soul."

"Yes, she was."

The business of the evening apparently ended, the President led Godfrey out of the room and down a long hallway. Just before they parted, Custer looked at Godfrey for a moment, and then said, "You know, Colonel, I have never acknowledged to anyone other than the late Captain Custer that the winning strategy at the Little Bighorn was your plan."

Godfrey was stunned. "Sir, you gave the command, and you orchestrated the victory."

"You were the composer of that victory, sir. Your loyalty over these many years is commendable. Very commendable. Goodnight, sir."

"Goodnight, Mr. President," Godfrey repeated, wondering exactly what Custer meant by the longstanding loyalty reference.

The train ride back to Texas did not bring any resolution to Godfrey's perplexed mind. He had been a soldier all his life. He knew risk and danger, but he considered it a point of honor to follow orders and do his duty. But his encounter in the White House had been strange. It was as if he had a choice, but if so, he hadn't accepted Custer's invitation and volunteered. Perhaps that's why the President seemed a little upset. And what was Godfrey supposed to do now?

Within a day of arriving back at Fort Sam Houston, it all appeared moot. Several incidences of raiding banditos had triggered the normal Army response. Godfrey received orders to temporarily deploy to Fort Ringgold to provide border security, and perhaps punitive action. Within a week Godfrey and his men were riding patrols through the baking thorn scrub of Deep South Texas. The searing temperatures killed several of his troopers from heat stroke. Not another word was heard from the White House or the upper Army chain of command.

Godfrey's regiment returned to San Antonio at the end of September. It was there one afternoon that the Base Commander called him in.

"Colonel, I thought you would want to know this. I have just learned of some Army casualties in Cuba. One of your fellow 7th Cavalry officers was among them, Major Crittendon."

"John Crittendon," echoed Godfrey, thinking of the young 2nd Lieutenant in Calhoun's company. Is that, he wondered, what becomes of someone closer to the Custer inner circle? "What happened, sir? What were they doing there?"

"There are few details. They were apparently escorting some inland cargo shipments when they came under attack. Now I expect we may finally have a war with Spain."

What unfolded next reminded Godfrey of a spreading brush fire. It was reported that the company of American cavalry troopers was guarding a supply convoy for some American-owned sugar plantations. This column was ambushed, and Spanish military forces were blamed. Spain denied involvement, but accused the Americans of supplying arms to the rebels, for which there was some evidence. There were also accusations that the attack was instigated by a renegade rebel faction seeking to hijack an arms shipment. Amidst the confusion and heated passions, Custer appeared to rush to judgement, immediately asking Congress for a declaration of war to avenge the spilling of American blood.

But the Administration had totally misjudged the situation. To begin with, the President's poor reputation guaranteed no bipartisan support for a war with Spain. An energetic Republican congressman named Theodore Roosevelt gave an influential speech linking this proposed war to industrial monopolists. As a matter of fact, most U.S. business interests actually opposed Cuban military intervention. There was the significant opposition within Custer's own party. Bryan had always been against imperialism, as was the official Democratic Party platform. Democratic senators from sugar and tobacco producing states were against anything that increased ties to Cuban agricultural markets.

The public appeared to be completely divided on the issue. When the speeches had ended and the final tally came, the vote against the war measure was almost two to one in both chambers. Custer was thoroughly repudiated, and then only weeks before an election touting him as a Soldier-Statesman.

With Custer sulking in the White House and McKinley drinking lemonade on his front porch, the campaign of 1904 was unusually passive. Custer did well in the Democratic strongholds of the South, plus a few western states. But McKinley mopped up the Electoral College with New England, Mid-Atlantic, Border, and Far West states all in his column. Having won a solid victory, McKinley was too enfeebled to do much with it. It was laissez-fair by default, especially in domestic policy. Any initiative that depended on McKinley's energy, perseverance, or oratory simply died on the vine. Hence there was little progress in labor relations, race relations, safety regulations, monetary reform, or trust busting.

This situation shifted a considerable amount of executive power to McKinley's inner circle at the White House, as well as to his appointments. In foreign policy, the Cuban debacle of the previous administration removed it as a consideration for the Republicans. That did not stop the repositioning of politicians on the issue, like the new found support for the Cuban rebels by newly elected New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt.

McKinley sought moderate bi-lateral reductions in tariffs to foster freer trade, and appointed a fellow Ohioan, Judge William Taft as Secretary of State to spearhead the effort. Almost immediately, Taft was pulled into high profile international relations when the Japanese asked McKinley to broker a peace conference between them and the Russian Tsar. The President sent Taft as his designated representative, "The Prince of Peace", as Taft jovially put it. The resulting Treaty of Portsmouth, NH settled the conflict and earned Taft a Nobel Peace Prize as well as national prominence.

Taft would spend the next several years visiting Mexico, South America, and Asia. He was free to promote his own initiative known as "dollar diplomacy", giving low interest loans to influence cooperation of developing countries. It is was on one such trip that Secretary Taft and Colonel Edward Godfrey were reunited.

  Coming: Part Three - A Delicate Constitution

The End, Part 2 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.

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