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The Way We Were

General George Custer and his last stand

 

General George Custer commanded the forces of between 200 and 300 Seventh Calvary soldiers against thousands of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. The battle that ensued at Little Big Horn in eastern Montana on June 25, 1876, is commonly called Custer’s Last Stand.

Custer was on a mission to locate the whereabouts of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. The plan called for General Alfred Terry to attempt to persuade the chiefs to return with their people to their homes.

Custer had a listless military career after graduating from West Point at the bottom of his class, yet he was a man with no fear and inclined toward the daring. President U.S. Grant and War Secretary William Belknap were evaluating his performance at the time and Custer may have thought a spectacular showing against these two great chiefs could rescue his career.

Custer was offered the use of Gatling guns but declined saying they would slow his movement. He also declined the use of two further companies of cavalry saying his regiment could handle anything they found without additional assistance.

 

Custer’s scouts reported seeing fresh signs of a large band of Indians leading to the Little Bighorn Valley and he had his men saddle up immediately. After riding much of the night, they camped in the open. Their sleep was cut short when scouts arrived and reported a large group of Indians was camped nearby on the Little Bighorn River. Custer sent word for all officers to report to him for final plans to attack.

The elaborate plan was no match for the large number of Native American fighters even though they were well trained and brave. The Natives fought to defend their women and children as well as themselves. They fought with intensity and fervor.

Crazy Horse, the great leader among his people, led the Native American forces to a decisive victory. Rain-in-the-Face, Gall of the Sioux, and Two Moon of the Northern Cheyenne were other leaders in the battle. Sitting Bull, the great leader and medicine man of the Sioux, was “making medicine” on the mesa overlooking the Indian camp and battleground.

“Fight with frenzy,” Crazy Horse yelled to his forces in their native tongue after several of his men faded back from the melee following a volley of fire from Custer’s army. “It’s a great day to die for your people! Let the cowards cower. The real warriors come forward and fight. Come on and fight!”

The population of the village was estimated at 10,000 to 15,000 men, women and children. Nearly one third were men of the fighting force. Custer could not have known the number of hostile Natives, yet he had supreme confidence that the Seventh Cavalry would best the entire Sioux nation.

Custer was killed along with 286 of his command. Two of Custer’s brothers, a nephew and a brother in Gen. Custer (above) and Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull (right). law were among the dead. News of the defeat arrived in the East just as the U.S. was observing its centennial. It came as a great shock as the nation was accustomed to battlefield victories.

Custer’s tactics and strategy have been questioned for years. Native American accounts spoke of panic-driven flight and suicide by soldiers unwilling to be captured. Many of the men had seen the terrible fate of those who fell into Native hands while still alive.

Two days later the soldiers who died at Little Bighorn were buried where they fell with stakes driven at the head and feet of each. An empty cartridge shell with a slip of paper with the name of the dead soldier was placed at the head so that he could be identified when exhumed for burial elsewhere.

All were dead except for “Comanche,” the horse of Captain Myles Keogh. Comanche was found standing in a gorge, wounded badly from bullets and loss of blood. He was carefully transported to Bismarck where he underwent surgery and recovered. Special orders were issued stating that the horse was never to be ridden again.

A man was detailed to keep, lead and feed Comanche. At dress parades involving the Seventh Calvary the horse was bridled and saddled and draped in black. He was relocated with the Seventh Cavalry at Fort Riley, Kansas in 1888 and died there in the winter of 1891. Comanche was mounted at the University of Kansas and remains on display in Lawrence, Kansas.

Many horses died during the fighting at Little Bighorn. Some survived and the Native Americans took those that were healthy.

Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer was reburied with full military honors at West Point Cemetery on October 10, 1877. s

Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, Tennessee. His stories are both nostalgic and historical in nature. He wishes to thank Lincoln Memorial University, Alice Lloyd College, and the Museum of Appalachia for their assistance.

©2021 JADON GIBSON


Clips from available Mountain Eagle pages since 1907. 

FRIDAY 

DECEMBER 2, 1921

The L&N Railroad has set aside the month of December in which to make a vigorous campaign among its employees to avoid the striking and killing of livestock along it rights-of-way. The company reports that during the year 1920 and the first nine month of 1921, the number of animals killed on its lines are 9,660 cattle, 11,138 hogs, 1,491 sheep, and 1,499 horses and mules. As a result of the losses, L&N had to pay out $750,000 during the same period. s

Professor H.H. Harris of Whitesburg is offering for sale 300 acres of standing timber on Pine Mountain. s

Whitesburg’s James H. Frazier pays the largest amount of property tax among all of Letcher County’s citizen-taxpayers. His individual taxes this year amount to $1,100. s

Lake Charles, Lousiana Mayor John Trotti was in Letcher County on business this past week, looking after the interests of the Swift Coal and Timber Company, a Southern corporation that owns a very considerable amount of coal and timber property here. s

A burglar entered Colonel Webb’s store on Main Street in Whitesburg on Wednesday night and made off with only a good suit of clothes and an overcoat. s

Accused murderer Burnett Ison is among four prisoners who escaped from the Letcher County Jail by tying sheets together and lowering themselves to the ground from an upper floor cell. The other three men were being held on whiskeyrelated charges.

THURSDAY

DECEMBER 3, 1931

Friday, November 21, will be remembered as one of, if not the, greatest day the community of Carcassonne. On that day, as many as 300 Letcher County citizens were there for the grand opening of the Carcassonne Center. The crowd ate barbecued sheep and beef while hearing dignitaries such as the Center’s founder, H.D. Caudill, and Letcher Schools Supt. Arlie Boggs speak. s

Hundreds of citizens were in Fleming for Thanksgiving Day festivities sponsored by Fleming Council No. 259, Junior Order of United American Mechanics. s

A civil service exam is set for December 18 for persons interested in applying for postmaster jobs in Cromona, Jenkins, and Seco. s

Woodford Webb, son of Mountain Eagle editor Nehemiah M. Webb, and four of his friends were involved in a car accident at Seco that left one of them, Kirkwood Whitaker, in need of 27 stitches to close a cut to his head. Webb, who lost control of the vehicle in heavy fog above Seco, was not seriously injured, nor were passengers Ferdinand Moore, Nassaretta Hays and Mable Blair.

THURSDAY

DECEMBER 4, 1941

The recount of ballots in the race for County Clerk ended with Cossie Quillen winning by 15 votes. Because the race was a close one, much interest was manifest with loyal friends on each side arguing to the very last. s

The Kiwanis Club of Letcher County will present an old-fashioned minstrel show for the purpose of raising funds for underprivileged children through Letcher County. The show promises to be an evening of mirth and entertainment with the usual gags and skits. s

Robert Bentley, employed at the mines at Kona, suffered a serious injury to his eyes when filling up a battery light with water. It is feared that the loss of sight of one eye may result from the accident. s

“Whistling in the Dark” starring Red Skelton and Ann Rutherford is playing this week at Isaac’s Kentucky Theatre.

From The Mountain Eagle’s sister publication The Neon News:

FRIDAY

DECEMBER 5, 1941

“It was said in Jenkins Monday that quite a number of the ‘big shots’ high up in the councils of Consolidation Coal Company were headed this way from New York and elsewhere and would arrive sometime this week,” writes Burdine Webb. “Jenkins is sure to put on airs for the visitors.” s

Corporal Kermit Lucas, who is in the U.S. Army at Camp Wallace, spent 15 days with his parents and friends. He says that he enjoyed his stay in the Army very much but is looking forward to his return home. s

A man identified as Dewey Adkins, about 39, was found dead about 50 yards below the Jenkins Depot. The coroner was called and after examination pronounced the death as being caused by a train. s

Gary Cooper stars in “Sergeant York”, which plays this week at the Pound Theatre in Pound, Va.

THURSDAY

DECEMBER 6, 1951

Since stickers will be used in place of automobile license plates in 1952, Letcher County Court Clerk Charlie Wright has suggested that automobile owners in the county save themselves time and trouble by applying for their ’52 licenses through the mail. s

The Ermine railroad crossing about two and a half miles east of Whitesburg was the scene of one of Letcher County’s most tragic accidents December 3, when the truck in which the Reverend Kernel Sexton, 46, and his daughter, Emma Jean, 21, were riding was struck at the crossing by a fast-moving L&N coal train. Emma Jean was killed instantly and was thrown from the truck. The truck, with the Reverend Sexton wedged in the driver’s seat, was carried 315 yards on the train’s cow catcher. s

The Purple Heart has been conferred on Cpl. James F. Slone, 19, of Hallie, for wounds received in action in Korea. Slone is now a patient at the Korea 141st General Hospital near Fukouka, Japan. s

“The Red Badge of Courage” with Audie Murphy and Bill Maudlin will play this week at Isaac’s Alene Theatre.

THURSDAY

DECEMBER 7, 1961

Two men are dead and 19 children orphaned as a result of a gun battle at Mayking. Dead are Deputy Sheriff Leonard Adams, 46, of Craft’s Colly, and Fred Short, 36, of Mayking, an employee of the Judy Coal Company. Sheriff Johnny Fulton said questioning of witnesses indicated the shooting occurred when Adams attempted to arrest Short on a charge of drunkenness. s

Whitesburg High School did not win its long-hoped-for accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools this year. But, an inspection committee letter leaves hope that the school can become accredited next year. The committee recommended that the librarian and guidance counselor complete their training, that lighting be installed as planned, that a plan be made for the final solution of a school plant, and that the faculty study the inspection report and put into as many recommendations as appear practical. s

The Letcher County school system this week corrected nine-tenths of the school fire hazards listed in a report from the state fire marshal’s office. The only recommendation of the first marshal which the school system will not follow is the one for installation of enclosed stairwells in several schools, which would be too expensive. s

Navy Ens. Billy D. Mullins, son of Mr. and Mrs. Ivan B. Mullins of Jenkins, was graduated from Naval Officer Candidate School Nov. 17 at the Naval Base, Newport, R.I. The graduate class, the largest in five years, is comprised of college graduates and outstanding personnel from the fleet.

THURSDAY

DECEMBER 16, 1971

The Kentucky Health Department is threatening to close Hemphill Elementary School and Fleming-Neon Elementary and High School unless the Letcher County Board of Education does something about sewage disposal at the two schools. Sewage from both schools is discharged into septic tanks, but the tanks have no drain fields and the raw sewage overflows into the Boone Fork of the Kentucky River. s

Donald P. Schlick, the man in charge of health and safety for the U.S. Bureau of Mines, has stated that “any new man entering the coal mines today will not catch black lung.” Schlick said, “As we’ve found a cure for polio, we have also found the cure for respirable dust” in the mines. s

Trial of the government’s suit to overturn the 1969 election of the United Mine Workers of America has been recessed until January 4. The delay was called after both parties agreed to await a Supreme Court ruling on the eligibility of Miners for Democracy head Mike Trbovich to become a party to the suit. s

George Hamilton and Sue Lyon star in “Evel Knievel” this weekend at Isaac’s Alene Theatre.

THURSDAY

DECEMBER 10, 1981

State Department of Mines and Minerals Commissioner Willard Stanley announced that all eight miners trapped by an explosion in Adkins Mine No. 18 near Topmost have been found dead. Stanley is heading an investigation into the cause of the accident. s

Larry “Jughead” Taylor, who is accused in the 1975 murder of William Harvey Johnson, told authorities he killed the Letcher County coal operator because Johnson owed him $5,000. s

Fleming-Neon residents will have to go through two more winters before they can count on getting water any time they turn on the tap. The City of Fleming-Neon, which owns the town’s water system, is now having to limit residents’ water use to half of each day. In order to have enough pressure to make the water flow through the pipes, only half the system’s customers can be served at any one time. s

Warrington Hudlin, a New York-based Black independent filmmaker, will be at Appalshop December 11 and 12 to show and discuss his films.

WEDNESDAY

DECEMBER 4, 1991

The Neon area forest fire which killed one firefighter has claimed another victim. John Randall Adams, 19, of Mayking died Sunday night at the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center in Lexington. His death resulted from burns received when he and three other young men were trapped between a forest fire and a hillside as they were building a firebreak in Hogg Hollow at Neon. John Emerson Spangler, 19, also of Mayking died at the scene of the fire, and David Polis II, 20, and Robert Wayne “Chico” Cox, 22, were injured. s

Streams throughout much of eastern Kentucky spilled over their banks this week after three days of rain soaked the mountains. In Letcher County, minor flooding was reported at Jenkins, Fleming, Millstone and Cowan. Some bridges were covered in the Cumberland River area, and some side roads were covered at Whitco and Van. s

State police investigators have taken possession of at least some of the purchasing records of the Letcher County Fiscal Court. The Kentucky State Police Special Investigations Branch is working it with the state attorney general’s office on an investigation of the purchasing practices of the fiscal court and the Letcher County Board of Education and their vendors and contractors. s

The Letcher County Local Governance Project, an affiliate of the Kentucky Local Governance Project, is preparing a long list of procedures it would like the Letcher County Fiscal Court and the Letcher County Board of Education to adopt. The list includes such things as giving the public and the news media 72 hours’ notice of any special meetings, holding their meetings after 6 p.m., and making copies of their meeting agendas available for publication in newspapers before the meeting.

WEDNESDAY

DECEMBER 5, 2001

Construction of a water system between Jeremiah and Isom could begin by mid-February. The commission voted on Thursday to award a contract to build the system to M.&S. General Construction of Pikeville, the low bidder at $729,100. But before work can begin, the state Public Service Commission has to review and approve plans for the project. s

A steering committee appointed to decide what the proposed Letcher County Central High School will look like and what programs it will include will begin surveying parents and students “as soon as possible.” The committee is responsible for suggesting everything from school curriculum at the new high school and the facilities needed to teach that curriculum, down to school colors and the mascot of the sports teams. s

Unemployment fell again in October in Letcher County to 4.6 percent, less than half the rate of a year earlier. But the civilian labor force also fell to 7,572 from 7,644 in September. Such drops usually means unemployed workers have given up looking for work. s

Whitesburg and Jenkins both won their season openers. Whitesburg defeated Lee County 73-37 and Jenkins beat June Buchanan 70-39.

WEDNESDAY

DECEMBER 7, 2011

Letters mailed from Whitesburg and most other Letcher County post offices will be processed and distributed from Knoxville, Tenn., under a new plan announced by the U.S. Postal Service. The change from Hazard to Knoxville means that first-class mail originating from Letcher County will be a “two to three-day service standard” by the time it gets to Tennessee and back. Letters mailed from Jenkins and Burdine are now processed at Charleston, W.Va. s

A homing pigeon, which became lost after a funeral service in West Virginia two weeks ago, was found in Cram Creek, more than 200 miles from its coop. Richard Craft said his wife was looking out the window on November 28 when she saw a solid white pigeon pecking at straw. Craft caught the bird in a fishing net and later let it go free. The bird came back the next day and Craft notified Mitch Whitaker, a master falconer, who used information contained on number bands on the bird’s feet and was able to track down its owner by contacting the American Racing Pigeon Union. s

Billy and Inez Polly, of Pine Creek, will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary December 8. He is a retired coal miner and she is retired from Quillen’s Drug. s

The Letcher County Central Lady Cougars won their season-opening game in easy fashion, defeating Jackson City.

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