Saturday, 21 June 2014

Eating Crow 4

                               ‘Never run a bluff with a six gun.’
                                                           Bat Masterson

In June 2005, the Northern Cheyenne, breaking more than a century of silence, revealed that Buffalo Calf Road Woman, a heroine of the Battle of the Rosebud, had knocked Custer off his horse before he died. Two other women shoved their sewing awls into his ears, to allow his corpse to 'hear better in the afterlife,’ because he had broken the promise he made to Chief Stone Forehead, to never again fight against Native Americans.
Custer was found with shots to the left chest and left temple. Heartless and mindless. Tin man. Straw man. Either wound would have been fatal, though he appeared to have bled from only the chest wound, an indication that his head wound may have been delivered post-mortem. His two younger brothers, Thomas Custer and Boston Custer, had both died with him.
Two days later, General Terry found the 7th Cavalry's dead corpses stripped of their clothing, firearms and ammunition, ritually mutilated and scalped, and in an advanced state of decomposition, making identification of many impossible. Most of the bullet holes had been caused by ranged rifle fire. Under threat of attack, they were hastily buried, covered by pieces of tent canvas and blankets, side by side in a shallow grave, where they had fallen. A year later, Custer’s remains were recovered and sent back east for reinterment with full military honours, at West Point Cemetery.
The rest had stayed behind with Robyn and I, at the National Cemetery of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. William Fetterman’s headstone was here. A lone tipi overlooked two fields of graves. One cemetery plaque looked toward the battlefield. The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat The soldier’s last tattoo No more on Life’s parade shall meet That brave and fallen few. One looked away. On Fame’s eternal camping ground Their silent tents are spread And Glory guards with solemn round The bivouac of the Dead.
Inside the museum was a dramatic depiction of ‘Custer's Last Stand,’ the painting commissioned by Anheuser-Busch. Reprints had been framed and hung in saloons across the United States, forever connecting the golden boy and the golden brew in the hearts and minds of bar patrons.
But, if Custer had been as good as he was supposed to have been, why did it all go so wrong? Here is very little neutral ground.
Custer clearly overestimated his own ability, and that of his troops.
Four days before the battle, he had turned down General Terry's offer of an additional battalion, four companies, of the 2nd Cavalry, stating that he ‘could whip any Indian village on the Plains’ with his own regiment. At the steamer Far West on the Yellowstone, he left behind the battery of Gatling guns, provided for his regiment. The heavy, hand-cranked weapons could fire up to 350 rounds a minute, but each had to be hauled by four horses, soldiers often had to drag the heavy guns by hand over obstacles, and they were known to jam. Custer believed they would impede his march and hamper his mobility. Before leaving the camp all his troops boxed their sabres and sent them back with the wagons.
The life of a soldier was a ‘glittering mishap.’ The 7th Cavalry had been carved out of a few Civil War veterans, returning from constabulary duty in the Deep South. A quarter of the troopers had been enlisted in the prior seven months, were marginally trained, and had no combat or frontier experience. A sizable number were immigrants from Ireland, England and Germany. Many were malnourished and in poor physical condition. Fourteen officers assigned to the regiment (including the regimental commander) and 152 troopers, did not accompany the 7th during the campaign. Twenty-two per cent of its soldiers had been detached for other duty, three of the regiment's 12 captains were permanently absent, two officers had never served a day since their appointment, and three second lieutenant vacancies were still unfilled.
Custer’s plan ‘to live and travel like Indians; in this manner the command will be able to go wherever the Indians can’ had resulted in a rapid march en route to the Little Big Horn, averaging 30 miles a day. His men were tired.
Government Indian agents had provided an estimate of ‘hostiles’ the Army could expect to face. ‘Fewer than eight hundred,’ they said, based on the number that Sitting Bull had led off the agency. It was wrong by an order of magnitude, by the several thousand ‘reservation Indians’ who had joined him for the summer buffalo hunt. More concerned about preventing the escape of the Lakota and Cheyenne than fighting them, Custer conducted an inadequate reconnaissance before launching his attack. He ignored the advice of his scouts, who began to change back into their native dress right before the battle. If your mind’s not made up, don’t use your spurs.
Custer was unable to communicate with his divided force, relying on rifle volleys to bring support to another unit's aid. He assumed that Benteen would have quickly come to his.
Unlike the valley, the heights above the Little Bighorn River were completely unsuited for mounted troops. Direct fire at the Indians through the dense scrub would have been difficult. The exposed terrain to which Custer led his troops actually gave deadly advantage to the bows and arrows of the Lakota and Cheyenne, in the heavy sagebrush below. The large volume of iron-tipped shafts that flew upward over obstacles, at the puffs of smoke from the weapons of the troopers, inflicted massive casualties. Custer's men were trapped on higher ground. Indian women rushed troopers waving blankets and bright robes to induce panic in the cavalry mounts, forcing troopers to choose between holding their horse’s reins or letting go to return fire. Aiming soldiers also had their hands pulled upwards by the frightened mounts, which resulted in weapons discharged uselessly into the air. When horses carrying ammunition packs were driven off, the Indians quickly gained control of them. They systematically stripped dead soldiers of guns and cartridge belts, their firepower steadily increasing as Custer's losses mounted and his return fire became silent.
Also, and paradoxically, the Indians were armed with repeating Spencer, Winchester and Henry rifles, while the 7th Cavalry carried single-shot Springfield Model 1873 carbines. which not only had a slower rate of fire, but were cursed with an additional fault.
The Army had chosen single-shot rifles over repeating weapons to prevent overuse of ammunition, emphasizing marksmanship to economize on the costs of transporting cartridges along a 1,000-mile supply line.
But the Springfield’s copper cartridges expanded in the breech when heated upon firing; the ejector would cut through the copper and leave the case behind, and the rifle would jam. The carbine version used by the cavalry did not come with a cleaning rod which could have been used to clear stuck cartridges. Troopers were forced to extract them manually with knife blades; thus, the carbines were nearly useless in combat except as clubs. Custer’s men's were not terribly familiar with the Springfields, as they had been issued only weeks before the battle. Lakota accounts noted his soldiers throwing down their rifles, in panic or anger, or both.
Finally, Custer was in a hurry to redeem himself, from the scandal he had left behind back east. President Grant still had no love for him. I regard Custer's Massacre as a sacrifice of troops, brought on by Custer himself, that was wholly unnecessary – wholly unnecessary.
As the country celebrated its centennial, citizens accustomed to battlefield victories and inherent Manifest Destiny superiority, were stunned by the news of the defeat. They were in no mood to recognize the reality of the historic mistreatment of Native Americans defending their traditional lands and way of life against the relentless westward expansion of European-American invaders, aided by the U.S. Army. Custer was a cavalier without fear and beyond reproach, a tragic military hero and exemplary gentleman who sacrificed his life for his country. Frederick Whittaker rushed out a reverential biography the same year of his death. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote an adoring erroneous poem. ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody popularized him as a heroic officer fighting valiantly against savage forces, in his Wild West extravaganzas. President Teddy Roosevelt's lavish praise pleased Custer's widow.
Marble monuments and memorials sprung up like mushrooms- counties and towns were named in for him in six states, as well as a national cemetery, a military camp and reservation, a museum, and a state park and a hill. No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
From the Indian perspective, the Battle of the Little Bighorn was the beginning of the end of the Indian Wars, their own last stand. Any white prisoners were tortured and killed the night of the victory. Three charred and burned heads were later found in the vacated village near the scene of the big war dance.
Within 48 hours after the battle, the large encampment on the Greasy Grass broke up into an exodus. Many of the Indians slipped back to the reservation, leaving only about 600 warriors still at large, and hostile. Crook and Terry finally took the field with two thousand reinforcements against the Indians in August. In May 1877, Sitting Bull escaped to Canada. Within days, Crazy Horse surrendered at Fort Robinson, and The Great Sioux War was over.
Threatened with starvation under the direction of the Manypenny Commission, the Lakota ceded the Black Hills, their Paha Sapa, to the United States.
Sitting Bull remained in exile for four years near Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan, refusing a pardon and the chance to return. He had been welcomed by the Canadian Mounties commander, James Morrow Walsh, who explained that the Lakota were now on British soil and subject to British law. The two became good friends for the remainder of their lives. There is no use talking to these Americans. They are all liars, you cannot believe anything they say.
Because of the smaller size of the buffalo herds in Canada, and a growth in tension between the Canadian and the US governments, Sitting Bull, and 186 of his family and followers surrendered to the Americans on July 19, 1881. the Army transferred Sitting Bull and his band to the Fort Yates agency, and then loaded onto a steamboat to Fort Randall, as prisoners of war, for almost two years.
In May 1883, they were moved again, this time north to the Standing Rock Agency in South Dakota. And this is where the story goes strange. In 1885, Sitting Bull was allowed to leave the reservation to join Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show.
He earned fifty dollars a week for riding once around the arena, and gave speeches about his desire for education for the young, and reconciling relations between the Sioux and whites. In the four months he stayed with Cody, his audiences began to view him as a romantic warrior. He gave his money away to beggars.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Eating Crow 3

             ‘There are three kinds of men: The ones that learn by reading. The few
              who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric
                                                                                                   Will Rogers

It was a clear and sunny morning, like it had been. The sunrise on June 25, 1876, brought reports of a massive pony herd and Indian encampment in the distance, and news that Custer’s own trail had been discovered. He didn’t know that the group that had found his tracks was leaving, and hadn’t alerted the village. Custer had planned to wait another day before attacking, but his first priority was to prevent a scattered southern escape by any of the tribes, and he decided to carry out an assault on the south end of their camp without further delay. His Crow scouts warned him about the size of the settlement.
“General, I have been with these Indians for 30 years, and this is the largest village I have ever heard of.” Said Mitch Bouyer.
Custer’s field strategy had soared into the psychological. His initial objective was the capture of noncombatant women, children, elderly and disabled, to serve as hostages and human shields. He had described the tactics in his book, My Life on the Plains, published just two years before the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

   ‘Indians contemplating a battle, either offensive or defensive, are
    always anxious to have their women and children removed from all
    danger…For this reason I decided to locate our camp as close as
    convenient to the village, knowing that the close proximity of their
    women and children, and their necessary exposure in case of conflict,
    would operate as a powerful argument in favor of peace, when the
    question of peace or war came to be discussed… ride into the camp
    and secure noncombatant hostages and force the warriors to
    surrender… would be obliged to surrender, because if they started to
    fight, they would be shooting their own families.’

Custer prepared to attack in full daylight, and divided his regiment into three battalions. Major Marcus Reno’s companies would be sent west across the Little Bighorn River to launch a direct northern attack on the southern end of the encampment. Captain Frederick Benteen was instructed to head northwest to intercept any attempted escape, and force fleeing noncombatants up the bluffs above the river. Custer would make a wide detour to the east, and capture the women and children at the top. They left at noon.
Major Reno crossed the Little Bighorn at the mouth of what is today Reno Creek around 3:00 pm. He began his charge northwest, without any accurate knowledge of the village's size, location, or its disposition to stand and fight.
The thick bramble of trees along the southern banks of the Little Bighorn not only screened his men’s rapid advance across the wide meadow, they blocked any view of the Indian encampment they were racing toward. The scene around the river bend almost stopped him dead in his tracks. Neither was far off. The river always runs one way, and it runs to something bigger.
Five hundred yards short of the village, Reno ordered his men to halt and dismount, and deploy in a skirmish line. Every fourth rider held the horses for the others to assume firing positions at ten-yard intervals, officers to their rear and the troopers holding the horses behind the officers. This formation reduced Reno's firepower by twenty-five percent. The soldiers began firing into the camp, killing several wives and children of the Sioux leader, Chief Gall.
More than five hundred mounted Lakota and Cheyenne warriors streamed out en masse to meet the attack, riding hard against Reno's exposed left and rear flanks, forcing the entire regiment to take hasty cover in the trees along the bend in the river. The very earth seemed to grow Indians. Reno’s assessment that they were present ‘in force and not running away,’ was not even close. This is a good day to die. Follow me!… I give you these because they have no ears.
The Indians set fire to the brush. Reno's scout, Bloody Knife, sitting on his horse next to him, was shot in the head. His blood and brains splattered the side of Reno's face.
“All those who wish to make their escape.” Said Reno. “Follow me.” He led a disorderly rout across the river toward the cliffs on the other side, immediately disrupted by Cheyenne attacks at close quarters. Reno’s bloody retreat, up and onto the same bluffs that Custer had planned for Indian women and children, cost him a quarter of his command. Captain Benteen’s column, meanwhile, had been summoned by Custer’s bugler with a handwritten message. Come on...big village… be quick...bring ammunition. But it came as he arrived from the south to encounter Reno’s badly shaken and wounded troops, atop the bluffs now known as Reno Hill, just in time to save them from annihilation.
Rather than continuing on toward Custer’s summons, and despite hearing heavy gunfire from the north, Benteen’s regiment helped Reno’s troopers dig rifle pits with knives, eating utensils, mess plates, pans, and whatever other implements they had.
Around 5:00 pm, Capt. Thomas Weir and Company D moved out against orders to make contact with Custer. They advanced a mile, to a distant view of mounted Native warriors shooting at objects on the ground. They returned to their comrades entrenched on the bluffs, to be pinned down for another day, until General Terry's brought relief on June 27. And news.
Robyn and I read the names on the tall white obelisk. There were no Indian names. On the near slope opposite was a ‘Danger’ sign with a crude embossed diamond-back rattlesnake, and a concentration of stone markers, scattered like a handful of corn kernels on a dirt floor. One had a badge-shaped black patch and a spate of periods. G.A.Custer BVT. Maj. Gen. Lt. Col. 7th Cav. Fell Here June 25 1876.
What happened to Custer on the ridge that day remains in the air among the markers, since none of the 208 men, in the five companies under his immediate command, survived the battle.
We know he rode north in a wide circular detour, hidden from the encampment by the cliffs, planning to sandwich and ‘seize women and children’ fleeing to the bluffs between his attacking troopers and Reno's command, in a ‘hammer and anvil’ maneuver.
He came to a crossing which provided ‘access to the women and children fugitives,’ within ‘striking distance of the refugees,’ before Indian sharpshooters firing from the brush along the west bank, and hundreds of warriors massing around the bluffs, repulsed and forced him back to Custer Ridge. If your horse doesn’t want to go there, neither should you.
The young man who helped decoy William Fetterman to his death a decade earlier led the surprise charge that Custer had thought uniquely belonged to him. Whichever way your luck is running, it’s bound to change. The sun doesn’t shine on the same dog’s tail all the time.
The Indians fielded over 3,500 warriors that day, and Crazy Horse’s charge delivered a swarming Lakota and Cheyenne cluster to Custer, completely overwhelming the iron-butted, hard-assed, ringleted boy general glory hunter, and his calvarymen. No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and
keeps on a-comin’.                                        
“Hurrah boys, we've got them!” Said Custer. “We'll finish them up and then go home to our station.” Our capacity for self-delusion is boundless.
Myles Keogh's men fought and died where they stood but pandemonium broke down the command structure everywhere else. Many orders were given, but few obeyed. Soldiers threw down their weapons, dismounted, held or hobbled their horses, or turned them loose. After that the fight did not last long enough to light a pipe.
About forty men made a desperate stand around Custer on Last Stand Hill, delivering volley fire. The space was too small to secure a defensive position, too small to accommodate the wounded, the dying, and the dead. With no doubts about prospects for survival, surviving troopers put up their most dogged defence, shooting their remaining horses to use as breastworks for a final stand. When your horse dies, get off. There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man. They shot the great majority of the Indian casualties on Custer Hill, far more here than anywhere else. At the end they shot each other, and themselves.
“We circled all around them.” The warrior Two Moons said. “Swirling like water round a stone.”
Indian warriors rode down the fleeing troopers with lances, coup sticks, and quirts. Almost thirty troopers ended up in a deep ravine three hundred yards away, their deaths the battle's final actions. Deep Ravine Trail… Stay on gravel trail… No smoking… Violators will be fined…Steep grades/Uneven surfaces… Rattlesnakes. It was, a running fight, a panicked rout, a buffalo run. Indian women ran up from the village, waving blankets to scare off the soldiers' horses, and used stone mallets, ten pounds of round cobble on a rawhide handle, to finish off the wounded.
Crazy Horse’s warriors annihilated every man in Custer's command in less than one-half hour, as long as it takes a hungry man to eat a meal. The only survivors were a Crow scout, Curley, and Captain Keogh's horse, Comanche. A Michigan yell and a Hokey Hey.

               'One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk.'
                                                           Tashunka Inyanke (Crazy Horse)

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Eating Crow 2

                  ‘The easiest way to eat crow is while it's still warm.’

Our wagon headed south, off the main Interstate that had cemented the Atlantic to the Pacific, onto the road that had fused the interloper to the indigenous. A lone combine stirred the yellow dust of Bauxauwashee. Welcome to Crow Country. They had been his scouts.  Fireworks. No Services. We took the offramp. Exit 510 Casino Little Bighorn……
It became an overpass. I would have wondered what would be out here in the middle of nowhere, that would require an overpass, but I already knew. We pulled into a big parking lot, full of license plates from all over America. Just because you’re following a well marked trail doesn’t mean that whoever made it knew where they were going.
“This wasn’t just a battle over whether the land was made for buffalo or of gold.” I said. This was the final war over the meaning of life. Either we belong to the land, or the land belongs to us, constituent or commodity, existential or exploitative.
“Just a point on our path of pilgrimage.” Robyn said. Authenticity and redemption come from living the authentic life, by living in Nature, and by facing death with dignity and courage.
“Remember when Richard asked me what that had to do with the American West” I asked.
“You said it was The Sacred Land.” She said. “The gold rush towards truth.”
“On the shelves beside Hemingway’s work desk were two books on General Custer’s fall at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.” I said. “One more book than on any other topic. The two men whose paths crossed here were the ultimate symbols of the ultimate clash of cultures.”
“More than Red Cloud and Fetterman?” Robyn asked.
“More.” I said. The first was named Jumping Badger, at his birth on the Yellowstone River, in 1831. God made me an Indian. If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man, he would have made me so in the first place. Eight years later, on the other side of the germs, guns and steel, a Michigan blacksmith of German descent, had a son.
With his first youthful courage, in a battle between his Lakota and the Crow, Jumping Badger was given one of his father’s names, Tȟatȟaŋka Iyotȟaŋka. Sitting Bull.
In 1858, the blacksmith’s son was admitted to West Point. Over the next three years he came close to expulsion as many times, due to excessive demerits, many from the pranks he pulled on his fellow cadets. Gonorrhoea had sterilized his reproductive potential, but not his charm. Even the officer who graduated last in his class could do well in the Civil War that had just begun. He burst onto his first calvary brigade command, the Battle of Bull Run, distinguishing himself with an aggressive, fearless willingness to lead attacks, at great personal risk. What some claimed as foolhardy or reckless, and he called ‘luck’ was actually a battle style of meticulous planning- scouting the battlefield, gauging the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses, ascertaining the best line of attack, and then satisfied, and only then satisfied, launching his surprise ‘Custer Dash with a Michigan yell.’ He rose quickly, to brigadier general at the age of 23, the ‘Boy General’ darling of the press, in his polished cavalry boots, tight olive corduroy trousers, black velveteen hussar jacket with silver piping on the sleeves, a sailor shirt with silver stars on his collar, and a red cravat. His blond German hair, generously sprinkled with cinnamon-scented oil, bounced in long ringlets, under a wide-brimmed slouch hat. His showy style alienated some of his men; others began to wear red neckerchiefs.
On July 3, 1863, Custer led a mounted charge of the 1st Michigan Cavalry, breaking the back of Jeb Stuart’s Confederate assault at Gettysburg.
‘I challenge the annals of warfare to produce a more brilliant or successful charge of cavalry,’ He wrote, despite his loss of 257 men, the most of any Union brigade. He was present at General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House. The table upon which it was signed was given as a gift to his wife by General Sheridan, who included a note praising Custer's gallantry. The following year, Sitting Bull defended a village against two brigades of over two thousand soldiers. In an attack he led against a wagon train near Marmath, North Dakota, a bullet that had entered his left hip, left the small of his back. In my early days, I was eager to learn and to do things, and therefore I learned quickly.
After the Civil War, in 1865, Sheridan sent Custer to lead the  Military Division of the Southwest on an arduous eighteen day march in August, from Louisiana to Texas, so hot they could have boiled beans with their tears. The five regiments of veteran Western Theater cavalrymen were waiting to be mustered out of Federal Service, but found themselves instead under the vain discipline of an Eastern dandy. Several planned to ambush Custer, but he was warned the night before.
Although the depletion of buffalo herds was driving more and more tribes into the agencies, Sitting Bull had refused to sign Red Cloud’s Treaty of Fort Laramie, and continued to lead hit-and-run guerrilla attacks against forts along the upper Missouri. Look at me, see if I am poor, or my people either. The whites may get me at last, as you say, but I will have good times till then. You are fools to make yourselves slaves to a piece of fat bacon, some hard-tack, and a little sugar and coffee.
Custer was mustered out of the volunteer service, denied the opportunity for ten thousand dollars in gold as adjuvant general of the Mexican army, and toured instead with President Andrew Johnson’s  ‘Swing Around the Circle’ train journey as head of the Soldiers and Sailors Union, in support of his reconstruction policies towards the South.
When the new U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment was formed at Fort Riley, Kansas, to prosecute the Indian Wars, Custer was appointed Lieutenant colonel. Beyond his familiar red cravat, every conceited component of his costume converted to buckskin. His troopers nicknamed him ‘Iron Butt and ‘Hard Ass,’ for his saddle stamina and strict discipline, and ‘Ringlets’ for his vanity. After taking part in an expedition against the Cheyenne in 1867, he was courtmartialed for abandoning his post to see his wife. Maj. Gen. Sheridan, allowed him to return to duty, before the term of his year’s suspension had expired.
On November 27, 1868, Custer led the 7th Calvary in an assault on Black Kettle’s encampment. The Battle of Washita River was a massacre. He killed 103 warriors, an indeterminate number of women and children, and most of the 875 Indian ponies. The remaining Southern Cheyenne went onto an assigned reservation.
Three years later, Sitting Bull ‘most vigorously’ attacked survey parties mapping a proposed railway route through Hunkpapa Lakota lands. The ‘Panic of 1873’ halted construction, and forced the Northern Pacific's backers into bankruptcy. In August, near the Tongue River, Custer and the 7th Cavalry clashed for the first time with the Lakota. One man on each side was killed.
Tensions increased considerably in 1874, when Custer’s discovery and announcement at French Creek triggered the Black Hills Gold Rush. The US government was increasingly pressured to open the Lakota lands to mining and settlement. Towns like Deadwood, notorious for their lawlessness, appeared overnight. The Lakota delegation that met with President Grant in Washington in 1875, including Red Cloud, attempted to persuade him to honour the existing treaties, and stem the flow of miners into their dominion. Grant offered them $25,000 and resettlement onto reservations. Spotted Tail told him to pound sand. When I was here before, the President gave me my country, and I put my stake down in a good place, and there I want to stay.... You speak of another country, but it is not my country; it does not concern me, and I want nothing to do with it. I was not born there.... If it is such a good country, you ought to send the white men now in our country there and let us alone.
In November, the Interior Department of the Grant government set a deadline of January 31, 1876 for all Lakota and Arapaho wintering in the ‘unceded territory’ outside the Great Sioux Reservation, to report to their designated reservations or be considered ‘hostile.’ They suspected that not all would comply, and knew full well the one man who wouldn’t.
Instead, Sitting Bull created the Sun Dance ‘unity camp’ alliance between the Lakota and the Northern Cheyenne, Hunkpapa, Oglala, Sans Arc, and Minneconjou and a large number of ‘Agency Indians’ who had slipped away to join them. He sent scouts to the reservations to recruit new warriors, and generously shared his resources. His reputation for ‘strong medicine’ developed as he evaded the Americans. Over the course of the first half of 1876, Sitting Bull's Ash Creek camp expanded into the largest gathering of Plains Indians ever recorded. Natives joined him for safety in numbers, to discuss what to do about the whites. By the time he had moved to the banks of the Little Bighorn River, he had created an extensive village 3 miles long, containing more than ten thousand people. He put in your heart certain wishes and plans; in my heart, he put other different desires.
On February 1, 1876, the US Army began to track down their ‘hostiles.’ Six weeks later, Captain Reynolds attacked Wooden Leg’s Northern Cheyenne, who fled to Sitting Bull for safety. Custer was supposed to have led the corresponding expedition against the Sioux two days earlier, but was stuck in Washington, subpoenaed to testify against President Grant’s brother Orville, among others, who had been involved in Secretary of War Belknap’s kickback scandal, supplying troops with defective weapons and hostile Indians with superior ones. It didn’t endear him to President Grant. Custer was accused of perjury and disparagement of brother officers, and vilified in the press. Grant gave orders to appoint another officer to command the operation against the Sioux. General Sherman asked Grant to meet with Custer. Grant refused. Custer took a train to Chicago. Sherman ordered General Sheridan to intercept him. Sheridan, together with Sherman and General Terry wrote to Grant accepting Custer’s ‘guilt’ and promise of future restraint, and presented the advantages of Custer’s leadership of the expedition. Grant became apprehensive above being blamed if the ‘Sioux campaign’ failed for ignoring the recommendations of his senior army officers, and gave the green light for Custer to take command. Grant had nothing to lose. Custer had everything to prove.
On May 17, 1876, the 7th Cavalry departed westward from Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Dakota Territory, together with the 17th U.S. Infantry, the 20th Infantry Gatling gun detachment, and teamsters driving 150 wagons and pack mules. He arrived at the mouth of the Powder River, with the rest of Brig. Gen. Alfred Terry's column, twelve days later, to await the arrival of the twenty companies of Brig. Gen. George Crook's column coming north from Fort Fetterman in the Wyoming Territory, and the steamboat Far West, loaded with 200 tons of supplies. At Fort Snelling, Custer had said that he would ‘cut loose’ from Terry the first chance he got.
During a Sun Dance on the Rosebud Creek on June 5, 1876, Sitting Bull had a vision of soldiers falling into his camp like grasshoppers from the sky. Twelve days later, Crook’s column limped back from the Battle of the Rosebud, to wait for reinforcements.
A week before the clash of civilizations, Sitting bull fasted, sacrificed over a hundred pieces of flesh from his arms, and had his most intense revelation. The Great Spirit has given our enemies to us. We are to destroy them. We do not know who they are. They may be soldiers.
On June 22, Terry ordered Custer and his 7th Calvary of 31 officers and 566 enlisted men to begin a pursuit along the Rosebud, with the option to ‘depart from orders upon seeing sufficient reason.’ Two evenings later, his scouts arrived at the Crow’s Nest, a viewpoint fourteen miles east of the Little Bighorn River. The earth has received the embrace of the sun and we shall see the results of that love.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Eating Crow 1

               ‘They made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they
                 kept but one- They promised to take our land...and they took it.’
                                                                                                 Red Cloud

Iron. Chris wasn’t humming next morning, as he prepared our breakfast. We had asked for it early, and he hadn’t had much sleep. I poured some coffee, and through an Old West book of Lyon photographs I’d never seen. There were two of the Hudson Bay Company trading post in Rat Portage. Outside the store, in the early morning light, Indians waited. I showed Chris, over the stove.
“That’s my hometown in Northern Ontario.” I said. “I never thought it had anything to do with the westerns I used to watch in the Saturday matinees at the Paramount.”
“If you really knew how dirty and raggedy the Old West was, you wouldn’t want any part of it.” He said, dishing out the eggs.
An antique painting of the woman in the hat wrapped with a scarf, on the Victorian floral wallpaper behind the breakfast table, looked like Robyn. We ate quickly, and grabbed our bags.
“Which anniversary is it?” He asked. I had forgotten about that.
“Thirty-first.” I said.
“How’d you like the trains?” He asked. I nodded.
“Don’t believe all you hear, spend all you have, or sleep all you want.” He said. “Have fun in Wyoming.”
Robyn and I left him, and the edge of town, for the Bozeman Trail. The sun was still above the morning cloud cover, trying to ignite the tan sediment of the mesas. It was a country of sage and juniper, and freedom. See Grizzly Bears 5 miles. But not for all.
Gusty crosswinds shook our wagon, as we passed over the Yellowstone River. A skunk had apparently died, not long before we reached the other bank. In a land of logs and elk horns and American flags, we drove through a fire burnout area, and a house on a lone homestead that had been lucky. Big Timber- wood salvage. Our map became a metaphor. Crow Reservation Land had cut the Custer National Forest in two, and there was more cleaving to come- fracking in Columbus, and a billboard for Adam and Eve- your romance superstore- coming to Billings soon. Three BNSF locomotives pulled a coal train past a van of Disabled American Veterans. If you don’t meet the devil every now and then, it means you're traveling in the same direction. Steak ahead…Hunger behind. I am a child not a choice. Microwave towers crept up over the ridges.
“Those used to be Indians.” Robyn said. We passed oil tanks of coal bed natural gas, big No Smoking signs wrapped around their curves.
“No peace pipes.” I said. There was a momentary shimmer off the plastic tarp of a Star Ranger from Jacksonville, Florida. The time to live and the place to die. That’s all any man gets. No more, no less.
Robyn and I were heading to the graves of two men of the Old West, who got both in spades.
The first had been a Civil War hero and in 1866, as a 33 year-old captain in the Second Battalion of the 18th Infantry Regiment, was stationed at Fort Phil Kearny to protect the immigrants traveling to Virginia City goldfields, invading along the Bozeman Trail. Never take down another man’s fence. William Judd Fetterman had boasted that with eighty soldiers, he could ‘ride through the whole Sioux Nation.’ No one had informed the Sioux.
His commanding officer, Colonel Henry Carrington had advanced along the Bozeman Trail ahead of him in June, into Powder River Country, the hunting grounds of the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho. Carrington, with 700 soldiers and 300 civilians, had established three forts along the trail, including his headquarters at Fort Phil Kearny. The fort’s construction had been plagued by fifty Indian attacks, and several dozen soldiers and civilians had been killed. The Indians, mounted and mobile, had always appeared in groups of less than a hundred, and stole as many horses as each occasion allowed.
Fetterman’s arrival in November put Carrington under pressure, reinforced by an order from General Cooke at Fort Laramie to take the offensive, in response to the ‘murderous and insulting attacks.’ His first opportunity made Carrington look even less up to the task. Fetterman ended up rescuing him from the hundred Indians trapping his effort to relieve the work detail west of the fort. Two soldiers were killed and four wounded. Carrington's guide, old Mountain Man Jim Bridger, remarked that his troops ‘don't know anything about fighting Indians.’
Chastened by the experience, Carrington reconstituted his soldiers and officers into six companies, intensified military training, doubled the number of guards for the wood trains, and kept the fifty serviceable horses he still possessed saddled and ready to sally, from dawn to dark.
When the Indians attacked another group on December 19th, Carrington sent his most cautious officer, Captain Powell, with explicit orders not to pursue them beyond Lodge Trail Ridge, two miles north of Fort Kearny. Powell followed orders, accomplished his mission, and returned safely. The following day, Carrington refused a proposal from Fetterman, to lead a group of civilians in a raid on the Lakota village on the Tongue River, fifty miles away.
But the woodpile doesn’t grow much on frosty nights, and the morning of December 21, 1866 was cold enough to freeze the words out of your mouth. About ten o’clock, Carrington dispatched a wagon train, guarded by ninety soldiers, to the nearest source of firewood for Fort Kearny, the ‘pinery’ about five miles northwest. Less than an hour later, Carrington's pickets on Pilot Hill signalled by flag that they had come under attack. Carrington ordered a relief party of 79 soldiers, and two civilian volunteers. Claiming seniority, Fetterman asked for and was given command. He would finally get his eighty men, and the chance he had been waiting for, to make good his boast.
Once again, Carrington’s orders were as clear as the air. ‘Under no circumstances’ was the relief party to ‘pursue over the ridge, that is Lodge Trail Ridge.’ The first thing Fetterman did on leaving the fort, was to immediately climb towards the steep hill of snow and ice that was the Lodge Ridge. If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s a good idea not to use your spurs.
You can’t weigh the facts if you got the scales weighed down with your own opinions, and the most important fact, inaccessible to Fetterman that day, was who was directing tactics on the other side of the Lodge Ridge Trail.
His real name was Maȟpíya Lúta, but that wouldn’t fit around the less melodic forked tongues of the white invaders. He was born close by two other forks, on the river that Calamity Jane swam, near what is now the city of North Platte, Nebraska, to equally discordant-sounding Lone Man and Walks As She Thinks. His parents died when he was three, and the future chief of the Oglala Lakota was raised instead, customary among the matrilineal tribe, by his maternal uncle, Old Chief Smoke.
Fetterman was racing to encounter the brilliant radiance of one of the most capable Native American strategists the US Army would ever face, towards the opening gambit of what would become Red Cloud’s War.
Before the winter snows would force them to disperse their large encampment on the Tongue River, Red Cloud, and other Indian leaders, had decided to launch a large military operation against Fort Kearny. He assembled almost two thousand warriors north of the Lodge Trail Ridge, more than would be at the Battle of the Little Bighorn ten years later. Cheyenne and Arapaho lay in ambush on the west side of the trail, Lakota on the east. There would be friendly fire collateral damage. Ten warriors were chosen to decoy the soldiers, including a young Oglala named Tȟašúŋke Witkó, who the forked tongues of the white invaders would later call Crazy Horse.
Your life is in the hands of any fool who can make you lose your temper. Fetterman fired volleys at the small group of Indians harassing his flanks and taunting his soldiers. At the top of the ridge, in violation of Carrington’s orders, he made the fateful decision to follow the Indian decoys north, rather than turn east to rescue the wagon train. A short time later the flag signal came to Carrington, back at the fort, that the wood train was no longer under attack. He may have thought that Fetterman had successfully routed the Indians by surprising them from the detour he had taken up Long Trail Ridge. But that wasn’t what was happening.
Fetterman was out of sight of the fort, pursuing the decoys over the ridge summit with his infantry, sending his calvary further ahead, under the command of 2nd Lt. George Grummond, another distinguished Civil War combat officer, but also a bigamist, who had been court martialed for drunkenness and abuse of civilians. Fetterman made it half a mile further. The decoys gave their own signal, and Red Cloud’s ambush erupted from both sides of the trail. There’s no way to get down from a high horse gracefully.
It was around noon back at the fort, when Carrington heard heavy firing to the north. Every time you shoot at someone, plan on dying.
Fetterman’s infantry took up position facing outwards in a small circle among some large rocks where, huddled together, he and fifty men were annihilated in desperate hand-to-hand fighting. A mile further on, his thirty horsemen came under sniper fire with bows and arrows, and then charged with spears and clubs. It took twenty minutes for the Indians to kill the infantry, and another twenty to dispatch the calvary, all on foot, using mostly stone age weapons. Only six of the 81 soldiers died of gunshot wounds.
Fetterman and his battalion quartermaster, Captain Frederick Brown, committed suicide by shooting each other in the head, at the exact moment that a Lakota warrior named American Horse was slashing Fetterman’s throat. Give me eighty soldiers, and I’ll ride through the whole Sioux Nation. Sometimes you get and sometimes you get got.
The Indians scalped, stripped, and mutilated the bodies of the soldiers, ensuring that they would be unable to partake in the physical pleasures of an afterlife. The next day, as a blizzard was approaching, Carrington found his soldiers, castrated, their eyes torn out and laid on rocks, noses and ears cut off, teeth chopped out, brains taken out and placed on rocks, and hands and feet severed.
The only two civilian volunteers, Wheatley and Fisher, carrying brand-new sixteen-shot Henry repeating rifles which caused a disproportionate number of Indian casualties, had had their faces ‘smashed into bloody pulp, and Wheatley had been pierced by more than a hundred arrows.’ The last trooper to die in the battle, Adolph Metzger, was an unarmed teenage bugler who had used his instrument as a weapon, until it was battered shapeless. His was the only body that hadn’t been mutilated, covered instead with a buffalo hide by his enemies, in tribute to his bravery. Carrington buried the bodies of the Civil War hero, his officers and his men on Boxing Day, in a common trench. Fetterman had never married and left no heirs. His pension was sent to his mother.
What would become known as ‘The Battle of the Hundred Slain’ was the worst military disaster, with the most casualties ever suffered, by the United States on the Great Plains. An entire US Army command had been exterminated. The mood of the nation built on a belief in their own Manifest Destiny grew sullen, and sour. Over the two years following the Fetterman Massacre, the prosecution of Red Cloud’s War would result in a total Indian victory. Red Cloud signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie, which established the Great Sioux Reservation in 1868. The white invaders agreed to abandon their forts and the Bozeman Trail, and to withdraw completely from Lakota territory. For the first time in its history the United States Government had negotiated a peace which conceded everything demanded by the enemy and which extracted nothing in return.
Two years later, Red Cloud visited Washington D.C., and met President Ulysses S. Grant. We eat, we sleep, we rest and soon we’ll be all better again.
But of course, it wasn’t to last. Red Cloud’s sovereignty over the Powder River country would only endure for another eight years.
In 1874, a US Army reconnaissance mission into the Great Sioux Reservation found gold, in an area held sacred by the local Indians. The General that led the expedition into the Black Hills, would soon have his own ‘pretty day for making things right,’ just like and a decade after the calamity of Captain William Fetterman. Well, enjoy it, 'cause once it starts, it's gonna be messy like nothing you ever seen.

   ‘I have two mountains in that country- the Black Hills and the Big horn
   Mountain. I want the Great Father to make no roads through them. I
   have told these things three times; now I have come to tell them the
   fourth time.’
                                                                   Mahpiua Luta (Red Cloud)

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Last Best Place 2

                            ‘There ain't never a horse that couldn't be rode...
                             there ain't never a rider that couldn't be throwed.’
                                                                                 Gary Cooper

Frank James Cooper was born in Helena, Montana in 1901, of English parents. His mother sent him back to a grammar school in Bedfordshire when he was nine. He returned to ‘shovelling manure at forty below’ on his father’s ranch, until his parents moved to Los Angeles. Deciding that he would ‘rather starve where it was warm, than to starve and freeze too,’ Frank followed them. He failed as a sign salesman, and eventually got a job stunt riding as a cowboy extra at a movie studio, for ten bucks a day plus a box lunch. One of the casting directors noticed him, renamed him after her home town in Indiana, and made him a star in his first sound picture, The Virginian, in 1929. How was I to know she was a lady? She was with you, wasn’t she?
In 1953, the year I was born, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as Marshal Will Kane in High Noon. John Wayne accepted it for him. He was sick with an ulcer. Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway. In 1961, he received an honorary Oscar. An emotional Jimmy Stewart accepted it for him. He was sick with cancer and, when he died a month later, a German newspaper noted that Gary Cooper was ‘the symbol of trust, confidence and protection.’
I wandered into Chee’s sporting goods store, fully unprepared for the salesman in the hunting room, who was loaded for bear. The room was huge, dimly lit by overhead chandeliers and wall sconce incandescences, and crowded with so many dead species of fur and feather, that double the number may have filled the ark. A grizzly bear stood up behind a counter, mountain goats and raptors near the roof, and heads of the dismembered ungulates filled the spaces in between. Firearms and ammunition and other merchandise of murder were illuminated by spotlights or accompanied by multimedia displays, offerings in the temple of taxidermy.
“Where’ ya from?” He asked.
“Vancouver Island.” I said.
“I used to be a guide there.” He said.
“Really.” I said.
“Yep.” He said. “Shot a lot of bears in your back yard.” I was sick with disgust. Hunting for food I was an self-acknowledged hypocrite about. Robyn and I had friends that hunted, and gave us meat, in return for our silence. But to simply exterminate a noble sentient creature in the wild, for the same cheap visceral thrill that had come out of the windows of the trains in the Old West, was deplorable.
“Anything grab you?” He asked.
“Hemingway.” I said.
“Good man.” He said. “Good hunter.”
“You know his work?” I asked.
“Nope.” He said. “What do you suggest?” You have two ways of leaving this establishment, my friend. Immediately or dead.
“Farewell to Arms.” I said. He squirmed like a worm in hot ashes. “Gary Cooper played the lead in the 1932 film adaptation. He was a friend of Hemingway’s. They used to hunt and ski at Sun Valley together.”
“Good man.” He said. “He was from here.”
“When I was a kid, I had a pet rattlesnake.” I said. “I was fond of it, but I wouldn’t turn my back on it.” Now turn around and head for the door. Keep movin’ and don’t do anything sudden with your hands.
There were different kinds of books, and records and discs, at Vargo’s Books and Jazz. The owner was reading one of them, and listening to Miles Davis at the same time. No one else was there.
“You’ve got a perfect life.” I said, on the way out. He smile, and pointed at the sign, in one of the local book sections. Montana- The Last Best Place.
I met Robyn and the end of Main Street, as we had arranged. I asked if she had bought anything. She shook her head.
“You find anything?” She asked. I shook my head as well.
“Let’s go check in.” She said. And we walked to the wagon.                                            
The bed and breakfast I had booked was an old mansion of one of the first brewers in Bozeman. We found it out near the lone grain elevator and the railroad tracks at the edge of town.
I had written the owners and asked if it was possible to have a room with a minimal amount of train noise. I had read the reviews and the recurrent remarks about locomotives in the middle of the night.
Chris wrote back to tell me that very few people found the train noise excessive, and some even found it hypnotically soporific. I let it lie. A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.
Out near Lehrkind’s old derelict brewery, we pulled along the sidewalk, beyond which stood a three-story Queen Anne manor, two wings of brick facade panelled with two shades of green, and railings of the same colour, with white balustrades and scalloped scrollwork. The dentates were red, and some were green.
Verandas hugged the front two sides of the angled mansion. Out of the intersection grew an octagonal shingle-peaked cupola, with a top set of diamond lattice windows. Half-curtains hung from them all. There was a spire on top, a couple of small gargoyles at the roof edges, where you wouldn’t have expected them, and creepers on all the surface sunlight they could find, where you would have expected them. An arabesque balcony hung off in the space to our right.
The lawns hadn’t been mown for awhile. A short walk took us up the California porch stairway. There was a radiant yellow sun inset in the triangular Palladian, above. Potted plants, in various states of vigour, squeezed the veranda shade.
The doorbell, beside the handwritten sign requiring us to remove our shoes, brought no response, even through we were long past the check-in time. We finally found him in the carriage house changing beds, and he became the second interesting part of the experience. Very imprudent to make your presence known in unsettled country.
Chris had been a biologist, a Yellowstone park ranger, before he and his partner, now a politically correct euphemistic way of degenderizing relationships, bought the mansion. He thought well of himself, and clearly loved the idea of witty repartee with daily new faces, but you could tell the less savoury elements of running a stagecoach inn were taking their toll. He had become increasingly introverted with each new less-than-erudite experience. I’m not sure his partner was pitching in his share. At two o’clock in the morning Chris had been required to drive out to the airport to pick up patrons that had flown in on a red-eye. His original guest suggestions had evolved into paramilitary ranger rules, and he spoke to you like he was willing to listen only so long, before deciding that any further investment would be a waste of his time. He took our money quickly. I’d like to buy him for what he’s worth, and sell him for what he thinks he is.
The interior was packed with the period it was built in. Chris showed us a vintage music box, with a large rotating tin wheel, as big and fierce as the rotary saw blade in Philipsburg, punctured with holes at radial intervals. He inserted it into its position, along a row of metal tines, inside its large Victorian wooden cabinet. He cranked the winding mechanism, and a calliope of harmonious tintinnabulation rang out and echoed through the manor.
“I’ve upgraded you to the Audubon Suite.” He said. “In the tower. Near the trains.” And then he chuckled. We asked him where to eat. He told us of the Montana Ale Works, just down the street.
“I always send my guests there.” He said. “Try the ribs.” We left just before dusk. Two barbwire bear cubs and a shears-snipped sheet metal beehive on a tree stood like a tiny tin taxidermy take-off of Chee’s, off the crooked sidewalk to our right. The sun was fading. It was as typical an American neighbourhood as you could find anywhere that romance was still more important than reality. The shrubbery encroached over the crumbling sidewalk, a message from the homeowners to keep on moving. American flags cast late afternoon shadows, on the front of the houses. There were mailboxes and gates and dogs, and people on porches, horse whispering quietly.
It was longer that we had been told. There was that uniquely American restaurant phenomenon, a lineup to get in. The difference between a lineup and a queue is that, in a lineup, competitive forces are still at work. It's very stars and stripes.
Our waiter seemed happy to see us, and interested in our trip. He was particularly enthusiastic about Yellowstone, and gave us a list of activities that would have lasted a month. I asked how crowded the park got in September. I knew American national parks were more congested than those in Canada. It was a simple ratio of volume to area. But I had read that, in the month we were visiting, there would be almost three-quarters of a million tourists. I wrote the park service, to ask if the most remote site in the park, the one that didn't take reservations, would be a sure thing or a gamble when we came through. The response was not reassuring. May not be a problem, as long as you're there by 9 am. I booked us a bed and breakfast, all the way out the other side of Yellowstone, from Wyoming back into Montana. The proprietress in Gardiner was just as encouraging as Mr. Ranger. You may have to share the bathroom.
“It's not crowded at all.” The waiter said. And he told us about his secret swimming hole on the Yellowstone River, just a few miles down the road from from our Gardiner Bed and Breakfast.
“You’ll love it.” He said.
Robyn ordered the calamari. I had told her we were a long way from water. It tasted like it had just been caught. I had the ribs.
"Paradise Valley." The waiter said. The same Indian Valley of the Flowers whose invasion produced Red Cloud's War, and closed the Bozeman Trail. But in 1866, Nelson Story, a Virginia City gold miner turned cattleman, braved the hostile trail to successfully drive a thousand head of longhorn into Paradise Valley. He had eluded the US Army, who had tried to turn him back, to protect the drive from hostile Indians.
Story's sizeable ranchlands in the Paradise and Gallatin Valleys were ultimately and ironically donated to the establishment of Montana State University, and the contribution, in its Museum of the Rockies, to the cultural history of an entire people. It was some kind of shrine to the Indians whose land he had primed for invasion, a taxidermy temple of the toppled.
The ribs were to die for. Robyn had vanilla crème brûlée for dessert. "Hard to believe this used to the canned peas capital of the world." The waiter said. Indeed.
We arrived back at the mansion at twilight. It was a sunset just like the others we had seen in big sky. Against the silhouettes of the Bridger Mountains and big pines and telephone poles along the railroad tracks, and the last shadows on the brewery’s big grain elevator, were laminations of sunflowers, and lamentations of gray clouds and orange and red flames. It was the loneliest sunset in the world. Red Cloud.
We turned in, after our baths, under the thick down comforter of the high-back tiger oak bed, surrounded by overstuffed chairs, antique rugs, stained-glass lamps, a leather trunk, and an ornate writing desk, on a protected upper floor with a view of the entire horizon.
Shadowy profiles rolled across the edge of the cobalt sky.
The trains came at intervals through the night. Sometimes it was so quiet you could hear daylight comin.’ I had the wildest dream. All night. Evocative. Dingdingdingdingdingding…

Monday, 16 June 2014

The Last Best Place 1

         ‘I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect,
          recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s
          difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.’
                                                        John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

Neon. The way Calamity Jane came, to get to Virginia City, had been a dangerous gamble. The country in between was wild as a corncrib rat. The trail that was evolving to take her there, would open up the rest of the Old West and, finally and truly, link Jane up to General George Armstrong Custer, through a blazing radiance. Red Cloud.
Breakfast in bed was mandatory at the Sacajawea Hotel in Three Forks. The front desk woke us early, to find out why we hadn’t filled in our official Breakfast in Bed Special Choices form the evening before. As we had been instructed, when we had checked in. We explained our preference for coming downstairs to eat in the dining room, and nothing further had been said.
But that, if it happened, was incorrect, and we had been expected to fill in our form. We told the desk that we still wanted to come downstairs for breakfast and, with some reluctance, agreed to, on the condition that I give her what would have been our Breakfast in Bed Special Choices.
Imagine out surprise, therefore, when not ten minutes later, our Breakfast in Bed Special Choices arrived by themselves. We told the young lady who delivered them that we had been granted special dispensation to eat them in the restaurant. She looked at us quizzically, and withdrew back downstairs. We followed at a safe distance.  If you’re sitting at the counter leave your hat on, but if you’re sitting at the table take it off.
It hadn’t been worth the effort.
On our way out, we asked how to get to Bozeman?
“Go down Main Street.” She said. “Turn right.”
Which took us unto into a land of haystacks and wild sunflowers, and black birds with long tails, and blue stripes around their necks.
We followed the Sunflowers to the Madison Buffalo Jump, surrounded by mesas and cactus and sage, and scorching heat. No one was there to collect the five-dollar entrance fee. No one was there to collect the buffalo either, but when there had been, it must have been something to watch. It would have been impossible to distinguish the bison from the Indian impostors in their midst, the ones that panicked the herd into jumping off the cliff, without getting trampled in the stampede. It was a long way down.
The sunflowers took us to Bozeman. We passed an Indian girl, dream-catcher hanging from her mirror. And a billboard. Life... a beautiful choice.
The Museum of the Rockies was, according to our Montana guide, a  ‘must see’ destination. But Jack Horner’s dinosaurs were mostly fibreglass casts (the real ones had gone off to the Smithsonian mothership), the outer space exhibit a century ahead of where our heads were at, the winter squash in the outdoor pioneer homestead had been eaten by deer, and the buffalo on the top floor was made of telephone cord and bicycle tires and electric guitars and fire extinguishers. The Indian exhibit was full of screaming white kids. I wondered why progress looked so much like destruction.
I had discovered that my old camera’s memory card was full, and back down on Main Street, Jeff and Logan, who found the secret of reformatting it. They recommended the Bacchus Pub for lunch.
“My wife wants to go shopping.” I said to the waitress. “What have you got that’s fast?”
“Do you want healthy or unhealthy?”
We had one of each.  I had the best Reuben in the world, with a Big Sky Moose drool. Robyn had a falafel, with a Madison River Salmon Fly Honey Rye draft. A motorcycle roared by, no helmet, and a red bandana covering his face. Decades earlier, Robert Pirsig, a professor of English composition and rhetoric here at Montana State, had written the definitive guidebook on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It had forced the first step, on my trip around the world.
The waitress returned to inquire after our health. Robyn said she might need a bath.
“Really ready to go shopping, huh?” She said. They both left me alone with the bill.
I wandered down the main drag, looking at the signs of progress.
Sorry, We’re open… Odyssey… John Bozeman Bistro Steaks Seafood…Robyn and I had heard of the place, but it was a Monday, and closed. We would be eating elsewhere.
I passed under the neon buffalo of Ted’s Montana Grill, media mogul Ted Turner’s steak restaurant. Ted, together with his friend, Tim Blixseth, had built the elite Yellowstone Club, a nearby ski and golf resort for some of the wealthiest people in the country. Dressed up like a million dollar trouper, Trying hard to look like Gary Cooper (super duper). Come let's mix where Rockefellers walk with sticks.
Or umbrellas in their mitts, Puttin’ on the Ritz. It was in bankruptcy because of the recession, and the seventy year old gas line that ran down Main Street, to the Montana Trails Gallery.
At 8:15 on the morning of the 9th of March 2009, an explosion ripped a hole in the heart of downtown Bozeman, levelling five historic buildings that contained thriving businesses, and damaging several more. The director of the gallery, Tara Bowman, was killed. Dozens of plate glass windows were blown out, along with the hopes for a resurgent downtown. The discovery of three more gas leaks didn’t help. Ted got off easier than Tim’s son, who was issued an` arrest warrant for defaulting on a loan he had taken for another elite mega development planned on the edge of town.
Before there had been an edge, in 1863, John M. Bozeman opened a new northern trail through the Gallatin Valley, to the goldfields of Virginia City. A year later he founded his town… standing right in the gate of the mountains ready to swallow up all tenderfeet that would reach the territory from the east, with their golden fleeces to be taken care of.  
Any of the fly rods and reels in The Bozeman Angler would have fleeced more gold than I had. A River Runs Through It. William Clark would have likely used less expensive gear here in July 1806, at his camp near the mouth of the Kelly canyon.
The old woman staring at the clutter in her antique shop barely looked up.
“That’s quite a collection you have.” I said.
“Yeah.” She said. “I’m just looking it over to see if I can commit any of it to memory.” One of the murals off Main Street portrayed an Indian chief overlooking a stagecoach, and a train in a valley of flowers. A river ran through it.
Further along, I was mesmerized by the life-sized standing white stallion twirling on the marquis outside the Gallatin Masonic Lodge, horse whispering of secrets from the same symbol, on the graves of boot hill in Virginia City, and other Old West tombstones we would find. Something happens to a man when he gets on a horse, in a country where he can ride forever. One of the men who rode the path of pilgrimage to authenticity had attended Gallatin Valley High School in Bozeman.

    “Authenticity.” I said. “The American West was The Sacred Land- the gold
     rush towards truth.”
    “What’s the truth?” He asked.
    “The achievement of redemption.” I said.
    “How do you get that?” He asked.
    “By living the authentic life, by living in Nature, and by facing death with
     dignity and courage.”
    “Sounds very existential.” Said Carolyn.
    “That’s where the truth lives.” I said.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Vigilante Trail to the Paradise Room 7

        ‘We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to
          What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we
          know not; what walls ride over the river, we know not. Ah, well! We
          may conjecture many things.’
                               John Wesley Powell, Old West soldier and explorer

We drove into the town at the headwaters of the longest single river in North America. All the way to the Gulf of Mexico, Three Forks was where the waters of the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin converged to form the Missouri. They were given their names in 1805 by Meriwether Lewis. Both Capt. C. and myself… agreed to name them after the President of the United States and the Secretaries of the Treasury and state.
The third woman was twelve years old when she was captured here by the Mennetaree tribe, five years earlier. They had named the local hostelry after her. Sacajawea Hotel.
The magnificent white palace of the plains also had three stories, with a row of three dormers across the top floor, and a wrap-around veranda with hanging baskets and double Dorian columns around the bottom. A flagpole with a big stars and stripes shot straight up out of the equilateral triangular Palladian atop the entrance to the lobby. We climbed the stairs. Inside, a sign outside the restaurant advertised Tonight- Snow Crab- All You Can Eat. It had come a long way, like us.
And so had Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and Sacajawea, when they arrived in 1805. It was a strange convergence that night- the Commonwealth couple, the Discovery Corps, and crustacean corpses. The main thing we had in common with the Lewis and Clark Expedition was that no one of any geographical consequence was eating snow crab in Three Forks.
We had all come because of what had been eating Thomas Jefferson in 1802. It was a book by a British-Canadian explorer, named Alexander Mackenzie. Voyages from Montreal was eating Jefferson's brain.
The Pacific Northwest had always been the last temperate Terra Incognita of the continent, an expanse of geology too large to lay claim to and, in the same space and time, a crossroads of cultures. After LaSalle's exploration through the guts of it, in 1682, the French established a chain of posts along the Mississippi, from the Great Lakes to New Orleans.
Almost a hundred years later, Thomas Jefferson was the Minister to France of the new United States. He met John Ledyard in Paris and  discussed an expedition of exploration to the Pacific Northwest. He had just read Le Page du Pratz's The History of Louisiana and, more intensively, Captain James Cook's A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, and was on fire to discover a practical route through the Northwest to the Pacific coast.
In 1787, the French explorer Pedro Vial gave a map of the upper Missouri River and locations of 'territories transited by Pedro Vial' to Spanish authorities. Early in 1792 the American explorer Robert Gray, discovered a big river on the Pacific coast, and named it after his ship, the Columbia Redivida. Later in 1792, George Vancouver explored over 100 miles of it, into the Columbia River Gorge.
Alexander Mackenzie’s book convinced Jefferson that Britain intended to gain control of the lucrative fur trade on the Columbia River, and that he needed to secure the territory as soon as possible. But everything west of the Mississippi was still unknown to non-natives, except for the existence of the Rocky Mountains, that the upper Missouri seemed to flow from them, and that the large Columbia River entered the Pacific on on the other side of them.
In 1803 the US acquired a considerable piece of promise in the Louisiana Purchase, and Jefferson seized his chance to jumpstart his push to the Pacific. Because of his poor relationship with his opposition in Congress, he used a secret message to ask for funding the first American expedition to cross the western United States. Different disguised explanations were provided to British, French and Spanish diplomatic officials.
Jefferson commissioned a Corps of Discovery, and a U.S. Army Captain its leader. He chose a frontiersman, Meriwether Lewis, to be the Captain Cook of uncharted America, rather than a 'qualified scientist,' because It was impossible to find a character who to a complete science in botany, natural history, mineralogy & astronomy, joined the firmness of constitution & character, prudence, habits adapted to the woods & a familiarity with the Indian manners and character, requisite for this undertaking. All the latter qualifications Capt. Lewis has… Jefferson sent him to study North American geography in his library at Monticello, navigational instrument use with astronomer Andrew Ellicott, and medicinal cures under the tutelage of physician Benjamin Rush. Lewis chose Lieutenant William Clark as his second in command. In October of 1803 they met at the Falls of the Ohio, near Louisville, and received Jefferson's departure instructions.

   ‘The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River, & such
    principle stream of it, as, by its course and communication with the
    waters of the Pacific ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado
    or any other river may offer the most direct & practicable water
    communication across this continent for the purpose of commerce.’

There were scientific and economic secondary objectives, to study plants, animal life, geography, and other natural resources, and to engage the Indians in such a way as to establish sovereignty. The U.S. mint prepared a series of special silver Indian Peace Medals, with a portrait of Jefferson inscribed with a message of friendship and peace, for distribution to the nations they met. The expedition was supplied with knives, blacksmithing supplies, cartographic equipment, flags, gift bundles, medicine, black powder and lead for their flintlock firearms, and an advanced .44 caliber air rifle, powerful enough to kill a deer. They carried a description of Moncacht-Apé's transcontinental route a century earlier, which neglected to mention the need to cross the Rockies. This resulted in an unfortunate mistaken belief that they could easily carry boats from the Missouri's headwaters to the Columbia.
The Corps thirty-three members of trained at the Camp Dubois winter staging area in Indiana Territory, near Wood River, Illinois, until their departure at 4 pm, May 14, 1804. The Spanish in New Mexico had already been informed of their true intentions, and sent four armed expeditions of fifty-two soldiers, mercenaries, and Indians from Santa Fe northward, intending to imprison the entire party. When they reached learned that the expedition had been there days before, but Lewis and Clark were covering eighty miles a day, and the Spaniards arrived at the Pawnee settlement on the Platte, too late.
The only member of the Corps to die, Sergeant Charles Floyd, succumbed to the rotten guts of acute appendicitis on August 20, 1804, and was buried on a bluff on the river where Sioux City now stands. The Sioux called themselves the Lakota, and were there before the city. They had a reputation for hostility, and had proudly boasted of the almost complete destruction of the once great Cahokia nation, along with the Missouris, the Illinois, the Kaskaskia and the Piorias tribes, that lived in the upper Mississippi and Missouri river basins. Determined to block free trade on the water, Clark described them as the 'vilest miscreants of the savage race.'
They were in a particularly vile mood when Lewis and Clark arrived, anticipating a retaliatory raid from the Omahas further south, for killing 75 of their braves, burning 40 of their lodges, and taking four dozen prisoners. When the Teton Sioux under Black Buffalo, received gift offerings before their rivals, the Partisan tribe, the resulting tensions required more tribute, including tobacco, and lubrication with a bottle of whiskey, to negotiate further westward passage. Never follow good whiskey with water, unless you're out of good whiskey.
The Corps of Discovery stopped near present day Washburn, North Dakota, and built Fort Mandan to overwinter in. Here, they were visited by nearby Hidatsa tribes in numbers, and interviewed prospective trappers who might be able to interpret or guide the expedition up the Missouri River in the spring. On November 4, 1804, Clark wrote in his journal. A french man by Name Chabonah, who Speaks the Big Belley language visit us, he wished to hire & informed us his 2 Squars were Snake Indians, we engaged him to go on with us and take one of his wives to interpret the Snake language.
Toussaint Charbonneau was a Quebecois trapper, who had either purchased his two wives, or won them gambling. One was named Otter Woman but it was the other, Bird Woman, pregnant with her first child at the age of eighteen, who would be of the greatest value, because of her fluent Shoshone, and her gentile presence, which served to emphasize the mission’s peaceful intent.
When she went into a difficult labour on February 11, 1805, Charbonneau suggested that crushed rattlesnake rattles be administered, to speed the delivery. Lewis just happened to have some, and Sacajawea delivered a healthy baby boy named Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, who Clark nicknamed  ‘Pompei.’
The Corps left Fort Mandan in April, in pirogues, poled against the current and sometimes pulled from the riverbanks, following the Missouri to its headwaters.
On May 14, Sacajawea rescued items that had fallen out of a capsized boat, including the journals of Lewis and Clark, who named the river in her honor. She encouraged the Shoshone to barter horses, and provide guides to lead the expedition over the Rockies. The trip was so hard that they were reduced to eating tallow candles. On their descent, over the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass, Sacagawea helped the Corps find camas roots to help them regain their strength. She became dangerously ill at Maria’s River, but recovered by drinking from the sulfur mineral spring that fed it.
The group carried on down the Clearwater River, the Snake, and the Columbia, past Celilo Falls. As they approached the mouth of the Columbia River, Sacagawea gave up her beaded belt of blue beads in trade for a fur robe for President Jefferson.
The Discovery Corps spent its second bitter winter, on the Pacific coast near Astoria, building Fort Clatsop. The decision had been put to a vote, which had included Sacajawea and Clark’s slave, York, the first time in American history a woman and a slave had been allowed suffrage.
In late March of 1806, the expedition started its return through Idaho, collecting 65 horses to cross the Bitterroot Mountains, still covered in snow. Lewis and Clark split into two teams. Lewis’ dog was stolen by Indians, and retrieved. Blackfoot tribes tried to steal his weapons, and two braves were killed in the melee. Clark had half his horses stolen by the Crow in the night, but no one had seen them do it. In July, Sacajawea took the Corps through Gibbons Pass and the Rocky Mountains, and across the Yellowstone basin at Bozeman Pass, which would later be chosen as the optimal route for the Northern Pacific, to cross the continental divide. On August 11, 1806, as the two parties reunited, one of Clark’s hunters mistook Lewis for an elk, and shot him in the thigh. A month later they had arrived in St. Louis, and made Jefferson’s history.
Clark invited Charbonneau and Sacajawea to settle there, and enrolled Jean-Baptiste in the Saint Louis Academy boarding school. In 1810 Sacajawea gave birth to a daughter, Lizette, and two years later, on December 20, 1812 …the wife of Charbonneau, a Snake Squaw, died of putrid fever.
The expedition she had guided, comprised of the first Americans to cross the continental divide, to see Yellowstone and enter into Montana, that had produced 140 first accurate maps of the area, recorded the whereabouts, lifestyles, customs, activities, social codes, and cultures of at least 72 native American Indian tribes, established legal title to their indigenous lands under the Doctrine of Discovery, and recorded more than 200 plants and animals new to science, would be largely forgotten, scarcely appearing in history books, even during the United States Centennial in 1876, until today.
By any measure, the room we had booked was tiny, so tiny in fact, that there was no way the large bellies we saw, gorging on Alaskan king crab in Pompei’s Grill downstairs, would have fit through the door, or on the bed. We asked for a room we could move in, but the desk clerk had to track down the manager, who was possibly a Crow brave, because no one had seen him in the night. We wandered outside for the sunset, backlighting the sky with a blazing radiance. Red Cloud. A motorcycle gang, a Discovery Corps of subdermal ink and transdermal metal, had taken over the veranda.
“I’m allergic to pigs and bull.” Said one particularly vocal member. But they were out of crab in Pompei’s by the time we were seated, and that’s what Robyn and I were left with for dinner. She had the pulled pork, and I had the Bison burger. It was my first taste of buffalo.
I don’t really know what Sacajawea would say about the trail she left, or the paradise room in the hotel they named after her. But that buffalo burger, in the restaurant named after her son- that buffalo burger was a hell of a lot better than eating candles.

                     ‘I am not a coward, but I am so strong. It is hard to die.’
                                             The last words of Meriwether Lewis