Friday, March 30, 2012

GENERAL CUSTER AND HIS DOGS

General George Armstrong Custer was very famous, mostly because of the way he got killed by all those Indians at the Battle of Little Bighorn.  Some people think he was a hero, and other people think he was an arrogant fool who got what was coming to him.  I used to mostly think he was an arrogant fool, but then I found out that he really, really loved dogs.  So that made me like him a little better.

During the war, with Rose, his setter

Mr. Custer was born on December 5, 1839, in New Rumley, Ohio.  He grew up in Michigan, and then he went to West Point.  He graduated last in his class, but this was not because he was stupid.  Mostly it was because he kept getting demerits for playing pranks on the other cadets.  Usually, a person who graduated last in his class would not get very far in the military, but the Civil War was just starting, so every officer was needed, and right away Custer got put in charge of a Michigan cavalry brigade.

Cadet George A. Custer

Lieutenant Custer had a very aggressive way of fighting.  He scouted the area completely and planned out his strategy carefully.  Then he led his troops into battle in a bold way, without worrying about his own safety.  Usually, he won the battles he fought, and by the end of the war, he had been promoted to the temporary rank of major general.  After the war, his permanent rank was reduced to captain.

On February 9, 1864, Brevet Brigadier General Custer married Elizabeth Bacon, who was called Libby by her friends and family.  They loved each other very much, and she always went with her husband to military posts whenever she was allowed to.

George and Libby Custer, 1864

At the end of the war, Captain Custer took a leave from the cavalry and thought about some other types of work, such as in railroads or mining.  But he decided these were boring, and so he got appointed lieutenant colonel of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment.  This regiment was brand-new, and it was formed with the purpose of keeping peace with the Indians on the frontier -- mainly by making sure the Indians stayed on the reservations where they had been put.  The 7th Cavalry was headquartered at Ft. Riley, Kansas.

Okay, so that's enough military stuff.  Now I'm going to tell you about the Custers' dogs, because both General and Mrs. Custer really loved dogs.  During the Civil War, General Custer almost always had dogs around his headquarters.  He liked to throw sticks for them and roll around in the grass with them.  He shared his bed and his food with them.  And when one of his favorite dogs died, people saw General Custer crying in public.

General Fitz-John Porter's staff, 1862

After the war, in 1865, the Custers were stationed in Texas for a while, and the general got interested in the hounds that the Texas planters used for hunting deer.  Back then, these hounds were called "staghounds," but now we call them Scottish deerhounds.

Soon the Custers had a pack of 5 hounds, then 9, and by the time they moved to Austin in November, they had 23.  At its biggest point, the pack had 80 dogs in it, mostly because General Custer could not bear to part with any of the puppies.

In the summer of 1866, the Custers moved to Ft. Riley with all their dogs and horses.  Mrs. Custer later wrote this in a book about their life at the fort:

"The dogs would be aroused from the deepest sleep at the very sight of our riding costumes, and by the time we were well into them and whip in hand, they leaped and sprang about the room, tore out on the gallery, and tumbled over one another and the furniture in racing back, and such a din of barking and joyful whining as they set up--the noisier the better for my husband." 

At Ft. Riley 1866

Whenever the 7th Cavalry left the fort, General Custer took some of his dogs along so that he could use them for hunting.  The ones that stayed behind with Mrs. Custer were good companions and protectors for her.  The type of hunting that the hounds did was called "coursing," which is hunting by sight, and then chasing the animal until it is caught (or gets away).  General Custer used his dogs to course antelope, jack rabbits, and even bison.

Buffalo hunt with staghounds.
Bloody Knife, Custer's favorite scout, is at left.

During the summer of 1869, the 7th Cavalry camped at Big Creek, which is about two miles east of Ft. Hays, Kansas.  Mrs. Custer and all the dogs were able to join the group there.  These dogs seemed to be always hungry.  Here's how Mrs. Custer described them:

"The air of Kansas was so pure that we had no difficulty in keeping meat; but our trial was the rapacity of the dogs. They always seemed to be caverns, and at no hour could we eat without being surrounded by a collection of canines of all ages, which turned up their large appealing eyes to us, contesting in this pathetic manner every mouthful we took. In order to save the buffalo-meat from their tremendous leaps, as they were great thieves, it had to be strung far up in a tree, and let down by ropes when the meat for dinner was to be cut off. By violent "shooing," scolding, and throwing of sticks at the waiting dogs, Eliza cut what was needed, and swung the rest back to its safe height." 

Sometimes the dogs went out hunting for their own meals, but the Custers also cooked for them.  And what they made was a big kettle full of mush, boiled with meat, bones, and grease.  This sounds pretty yummy, if you ask me, and I wish I could have been there to eat some of it.

The 7th Cavalry

In the spring of 1873, the 7th Cavalry moved to the Dakotas.  While they were traveling there in a train, one of the Custers' dogs, Lulu, had a litter of 9 puppies.  A little later, she jumped off the train, and no one could find her.  Then a blizzard came along, and all the puppies froze, plus 11 adult dogs.  After that, the regiment went across the plains on foot, and the dogs kept getting cactus thorns in their feet.  Finally, the Custers made leather mittens for the dogs' feet to keep the thorns out.

The Custers at Ft. Lincoln

The Cavalry was stationed at Fort Lincoln in the Dakotas.  When General Custer left there on May 17, 1876, he took a few dogs with him, as usual.  They curled up beside him when he was in his tent planning out strategy, and sometimes they stood guard outside his tent at night.



On the morning of June 25, 1876, the dogs were kept behind with the pack train when the troops rode out.  Of course, that was the day of "Custer's Last Stand," as it was called later.  There are a lot of different ideas about how General Custer actually died and who killed him.  No one knows exactly what happened to his dogs after that, except for one dog named Cardigan, that Mrs. Custer gave to a friend of the general's.







5 comments:

  1. Custer was going to run for President, and his attack on the Sioux was just two weeks before the 4th of July. He wanted to be famous, and he did accomplish that....trouble was he took 300 lives with him to accomplish it

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    1. I didn't know that General Custer wanted to run for president. He was very popular, so he might have got elected, except for the fact that he was killed before he could run!
      Piper

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    2. To Anonymous: Please read more so you can then intelligently write about one of our American Heroes! He was set up on the campaign in June of 1876-his opponents armed with superior weapons; amassing huge numbers of Native Americans that the B. of I. A. knew about but failed to inform Gen. Custer; surrounded by officers that held grudges as old as the Amer. Civil War. Your opinion about Gen. Custer 'wanted' to be famous is offensive in so much as he was-research his military carreer; especially the extensive actions he both participated in and was decisively successful. Also, consider the media of the time and you might become enlightened by the fact the negative sensationalism of the media drove more than Gen. Custer to react aggressively [Pres.Grant covering up for his brother who was supplying our Native Americans with food not fit for any living beings]. In closing; Gen. Custer was a faithful and dedicated officer of our United States; and was following orders when he was killed along with his beloved brother and brother in-law.

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