CUSTER

(PETER LAFARGE) (early 1960s)



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We had approached so near the village that from the dead silence which reigned I feared the lodges were deserted, the Indians having fled before we advanced. I was about to turn in my saddle and direct the signal for attack to be given, still anxious as to where the other detachments were, when a single rifle shot rang sharp and clear on the far side of the village from where we were. Quickly turning to the band leader, I directed him to give us Garry Owen. At once the rolicking notes of that familiar marching and fighting air sounded forth through the valley and in a moment were reechoed back from the opposite sides by the loud and continued cheers of the men of the other detachments, who, true to their orders, were there and in readiness to pounce upon the Indians the moment the attack began.

In this manner the battle of the Washita commenced. The bugles sounded the charge and the entire command dashed rapidly into the village. The Indians were caught napping....

George A. Custer, My Life on the Plains, Lincoln, 1952, pp. 334-335 (originally published in 1874).

The village was that of Cheyenne chief, Black Kettle, who must have sprung awake to the sound of the attack convinced that a nightmare was repeating itself; it was his band that had been camped at Sand Creek. This time (Nov 29, 1868] Black Kettle had come to the end of his trail and died trying to defend his camp....

Ralph K. Andrist, The Long Death: The Last Days of the Plains Indians, New York, 1972, p. 160.

In a matter of minutes Custer's troopers destroyed Black Kettle's village; in another few minutes of gory slaughter they destroyed by gunfire several hundred corralled ponies. To kill or hang all the warriors meant separating them from the old men, women and children. This work was too slow and dangerous for the cavalrymen; they found it much more efficient and safe to kill indiscriminately. They killed 103 Cheyenne, but only eleven of them were warriors. They captured 53 women and children.

Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, London, 1972, p. 136

EIGHT YEARS LATER...

After the fight on the Rosebud [Jun 17, 1876], the chiefs decided to move west to the valley of the Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn)....

The time was early in the Moon When the Chokecherries Are Ripe, with days hot enough for boys to swim in the melted snow water of the Greasy Grass. Hunting parties were coming and going in the direction of the Bighorn, where they had found a few buffalo as well as antelope. The women were digging wild turnips out on the prairies....

They did not know until the morning of June 24 that Long Hair Custer was prowling along the Rosebud. Next morning scouts reported that the soldiers had crossed the last high ridge between the Rosebud and the Indian camp and were marching toward the Little Bighorn....

Iron Thunder was in the Minneconjou camp. 'I did not know anything about Reno's attack until his men were so close that the bullets went through the camp and everything was in confusion....'

The war chief who rallied the Indians and turned back Reno's attack was a... thirty-six-year-old Hunkpapa named Pizi or Gall.... In military terms, Gall turned Reno's flank and forced him into the woods. He then frightened Reno into making a hasty retreat which the Indians quickly turned into a rout. The result made it possible for Gall to divert hundreds of warriors for a frontal attack against Custer's column, while Crazy Horse and Two Moon struck the flank and the rear....

According to Red Horse, toward the end of fighting with Custer, 'these soldiers became foolish, many throwing away their guns and raising their hands, saying "Sioux, pity us; take us prisoners." The Sioux did not take a single soldier prisoner, but killed them all; none were alive for even a few minutes....'

In an interview... a year after the battle, Sitting Bull said that he never saw Custer, but that other Indians had seen and recognized him just before he was killed. 'He did not wear his long hair as he used to wear it,' Sitting Bull said. 'It was short, but it was the color of the grass when the frost comes... Where the last stand was made, the Long Hair stood like a sheaf of corn with all the ears fallen around him....'

An Arapaho warrior... said that Custer was killed by several Indians. 'He was dressed in bucksin, coat and pants, and was on his hands and knees.... Four soldiers were sitting up around him, but they were all badly wounded. All the other soldiers were down. Then the Indians closed in around him, and I did not see any more.'
Regardless of who had killed him, the Long Hair... was dead with all his men....

ibid., pp. 231-235.

Lyrics as reprinted (with a few minor corrections by Manfred Helfert) in liner notes of Peter LaFarge, As Long As The Grass Shall Grow, Folkways FN 2532, 1963

Now I will tell you "busters"
I'm not a fan of Custer's;
And the general he don't ride well any more.

To some he was a hero,
But to me his score was zero;
And the general he don't ride well any more.

Now George, he'd had victories,
But never massacres;
And the general he don't ride well any more.

Old George had done his fightin'
Without too much excitin'
And the general he don't ride well any more.

When the men were away at huntin'
Old Custer would come in pumpin';
And the general he don't ride well any more.

He'd kill children, dogs and women,
With victories he was swimmin';
And the general he don't ride well any more.

Now the Sioux were gettin' tired,
And their temperatures were fired;
And the general he don't ride well any more.

Crazy Horse sent out the call
For Sitting Bull and Gall;
But the general he don't ride well any more.

Twelve thousand warriors waited,
They were unanticipated;
And the general he don't ride well any more.

Thus the Little Bighorn
Massacre was born;
And the general he don't ride well any more.

The Cheyenne and the Sioux
Had quite a lot to do;
And the general he don't ride well any more.

Old Custer split his men,
Well he won't do that again
'Cause the general he don't ride well any more.

The proud 7th Cavalry,
It got plumb masscred;
And the general he don't ride well any more.

Custer made his stand
With his little band;
And the general he don't ride well any more.

But he wasn't fighting women,
The Indians left them hidden;
And the general he don't ride well any more.

Custer got eliminated
And his legend uncreated;
And the general he don't ride well any more.

It's not called an Indian victory
But a bloody massacre;
And the general he don't ride well any more.

There would have been more enthusin'
If them Indians were losing;
But the general he don't ride well any more.

General George A. Custer,
His yellow hair had lustre;
But the general he don't ride well any more.

He got bombarded violent,
And now old George is silent;
And the general he don't ride well any more.

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