The Perils of Perfumed Hubris

On June 26th, 1876 at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Lt. Col. George Custer’s hubris lead all 210 men in his battalion to annihilation by Sitting Bull and a confederation of Northern Plains Indians. The body count for Sitting Bull’s Lakota and Cheyenne warriors numbered only 50, cementing the Indian leader’s reputation, and the battle itself as the high point in the American Indian Wars, which technically raged from 1609 to 1924.

Incessantly double-crossing the First Nations Peoples, violating its own treaties and behaving with Trump-like caprice, the U.S. had well-earned the retribution and karmic backlash which would be Custer’s undoing. Specifically, the Second Treaty of Fort Laramie guaranteed to the Lakota and Dakota (Yankton) Sioux as well as the Arapaho Indians exclusive possession of the Dakota territory west of the Missouri River. However, white miners in search of gold were settling in lands sacred especially to the Lakota. Unwilling to remove these white settlers and failing to snooker the Lakota to sell their territory, the U.S. issued an order that all Indians return to designated reservations by January 31, 1876, or be deemed hostile. In an age without so much as Twitter or even snail-mail in the West, communicating this move was virtually impossible, as likely intended, making bloody confrontation inevitable.

The above table-setting is even more craven in light of Custer’s role in creating the rather nascent Dakota Gold Rush which was the harbinger of the entire cluster-f*ck, grossly overstating findings during his exploratory expedition of the territory. As for Custer himself, aka Yellow-hair, he was reared partly in Monroe Michigan, eventually graduating dead-last in his class at West Point. Custer’s checkered exploits continued from there: distinguishing himself in battles including Gettysburg; flipping out post-war at Fort Riley and deserting to visit his wife; slaughtering Indian women, children and elderly at the Sand Creek Massacre; perfuming his cascading blond hair and donning specialized uniforms ranging from brocaded velveteen jackets during the Civil War to a frontiersman’s buckskins in the West.

To enforce the American concentration camp order, three army columns converged on Lakota country in an attempt to corral the rebellious bands. On June 22 Custer and his 7th Cavalry were sent in pursuit of Sitting Bull’s trail; Custer was to attack the Lakota and Cheyenne from the south, herding them toward a smaller force farther upstream on the Little Bighorn River. By the morning of June 25, however, Custer’s scouts had discovered the location of Sitting Bull’s village, and when some stray Indian warriors sighted a few 7th Cavalrymen, Custer assumed that they would rush to warn their village, causing the residents to scatter. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Custer characteristically chose to attack immediately. At noon on June 25, in an attempt to prevent Sitting Bull’s followers from fleeing, he foolishly split his regiment into three battalions and dispersed them to cut off Indian escape routes. He took five companies under his personal command and attacked the village from the north, quickly falling into a series of unpleasant surprises, including underestimating his foe’s strength by some 1,200 braves. Many of them were armed with superior repeating rifles, quick to defend their families and demonstrating remarkable bravery and sophistication in their tactics.

Entirely cut off by the Indians, all 210 of the soldiers who had followed Custer toward the northern reaches of the village were extinguished in a desperate fight lasting nearly two hours, culminating in the defense of high ground beyond the village that became known as “Custer’s Last Stand.” Two days later a scouting party discovered Custer’s nude, un-scalped body lying amid a ring of dead cavalry horses where he and 40 other men had rallied for a final stand. Custer bore two bullet wounds; one in the left breast near his heart and one in front of his left temple. The only survivor of the fray was one Comanche, a cavalry horse that was paraded riderless for years afterward to commemorate the death of a brave and valiant dandy, leaving one to wonder who the real horse’s ass truly was.

And it is here that our story of overconfidence and excessive cologne endeth.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.

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