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Thank you for listening to the rest is history. For bonus episodes, early access ad free listening and access to our chat community, sign up at restish That's restish I have a very big and exciting announcement. Tom and I will be following in the footsteps of Adele, Jimi Hendrix and Jay Z, or JZ, as I call them, to name but a few, because we will be performing at the Royal Albert hall. It's on Friday the 18 October. We will be accompanied by a live orchestra. Don't worry, Tom will not be singing, because what we will be doing is we will be diving into the lives of Mozart and Beethoven, arguably the two greatest composers in history, if you discount Bach. And we will be exploring their music, their lives, how the French Revolution overshadowed Mozart's final years, and how the napoleonic wars played their part in the making of Beta Urban's greatest symphonies. So you've got all that to look forward to.


Tickets are on sale now, and you can, of course, get and on that bombshell, on with the show. Custer's life demonstrates the power of a person having fun. Why were his superiors never able to restrain him successfully? Or to keep this repeat offender away from important commands? Maybe because they secretly looked up to him. Maybe because a career of cavalry charges and danger and glory was something they had dreamed about as boys. Maybe because he more closely resembled the soldier they had dreamed of being than they now did. Or maybe they simply loved him. Custer was good at being loved. Custers fame is the victory of fun and myth over complicated history. Pursuing his boy's dream of a life on the Great Plains, Custer finally ran into the largest off reservation gathering of Indians ever in one place on the continent and gave them what was possibly the last really good time they ever had. So that, Dominic, is from a book that I read when I was roaming the Great Plains, right?


Like a bison?


Well, yes, or like Custer. And it's by Ian Frazier. And it always stuck in my mind because I wanted to understand the appeal of Custer, the myth of Custer. You know, Ian Fraser is brilliant on crazy Horse as well on all the various characters in this story. So in this episode, we're going to see whether that characterization is true. I mean, I think there are definitely elements of it, but whether, for instance, it was always Custer's dream to end up on the plains, whether he was really as lovable and charming as he's often made out to be, that is what we're going to be exploring today.


Yeah, it's a great instruction, actually, Tom, because I think it's wrong. I'm not sure his superiors did love him. I actually think, as we'll discover, quite a lot of his superiors found him incredibly annoying. And, as you say, one of the interesting things about Custer is I don't think it is his dream to end up in the Great Plains. I think he wants to end up somewhere very different. But I think what is absolutely right is that there is a sense of fun and sort of the swash of a buckle about Custer's story, isn't there? And that's what we talked about last time. So, Custer in the Civil War, obviously, the Civil War is quite a dark story, but his role in it is very. It's perceived as being very romantic. He is the great star, the cavalier of the cavalry charge of Gettysburg, and of all the campaigns in the Shenandoah valley and things. And actually, in this episode, I think things will turn a little bit darker. And what we'll be seeing today is how the things that happen in this episode, which is in the sort of period after the civil war, there are a lot of sort of foreshadowings here of the events that will lead up to the battle of the Little Bighorn.


So the politics of reconstruction, the war in Mexico with the French, the rift that he has with Ulysses s Grant, and then in particular, he's involved in this war with the Cheyennes. And there's a series of kind of. I don't know whether battles is the right word. I mean, some people would say massacres, wouldn't they?


Well, I mean, this is the joke, isn't it, that when the Americans do it, it's a victory.




And when the Indians do it, it's a massacre.


Yes, exactly. Exactly. And we will come on to all this, won't we? And all of these things. We're sort of sowing a lot of seeds that will kind of bear fruit towards the end of this series. So, just on Custer. I mean, you love Custer, don't you?


Well, no.


Well, you enjoy the myth of Custer. That's fair to say.


I do enjoy the myth of custard, but I also. I mean, clearly, as we're going to see over the next few episodes and in today's episode, there are some very, very dark aspects to his character. But you can absolutely see that in the wake of the Civil War, which, as you said, was incredibly brutal, harrowing conflict, there would be a popular market for a figure of dash and color and excitement and who conveys a sense that he had actually enjoyed the whole shebang.


Oh, absolutely. I mean, the New York Times. I know we always loved the New York Times on this podcast.


We do. Yeah.


Called him the very beau ideal of the american cavalry officer. He's a magnificent rider, fearlessly brave, a capital revolver shot, and he's without a single objectionable habit.


And that remains the take of the New York Times on Custer to this day.


Yes, I think not. Actually. Nothing captures this better. So they have a parade at the end of the Civil War. So this is the 23 May, 1865. It's in Washington, DC. There's a big kind of receiving stand, and there's all the senators. Lincoln has been assassinated. So his successor, President Andrew Johnson, is there. And it's the first day. It's the army of the Potomacs. That's the army that Custer was part of. And he leads the cavalry in the procession. And he's on this stallion that he has actually stolen called Don Juan, some.


Or maybe Don Juan.


Maybe Don Juan after Lord Byron, your associate.


Well, because, you know, he has a.


Dog called Byron, so perhaps it is called. Yeah, who knows?


Yeah, who knows?


Who knows?


Anyway, he's on this horse. And if you read any of the biographies of Custer, they will sort of say, you know, is the champion, the hero, gallantry incarnate, one of them calls him. You know, he looks. He looks splendid on this horse. And he's riding down, and like a scene from a medieval tournament, a young lady throws this bouquet of flowers to him and he catches it with his free hand. Very impressive.




And the horse panics and kind of bolts and everybody gasps in horror. It's this shocking moment at the head of the parade. And Custer, basically, he still holds this wreath in one hand while he wrestles with the reins, with the other hands, and he brings the horse to a halt to the great relief of the excited audience, who gave the gallant general three cheers, says one of the newspaper reports, and there's a torrent of applause. And this completely overshadows, you know, the rest of the parade. Custer has done tremendously. He's made himself a star.


Well, you could say that, or you.


Could say, here he is showing off.


Showing off.


Yeah, totally.


And it all goes wrong.


Well, I mean, it doesn't go wrong in the long run because the public think it's brilliant. Let me just tell you what the Harrisburg weekly Patriot and Union top newspaper says.




Says it was like the charge of a Sioux chieftain. The cheers were the involuntary homage of the everyday heart to the man of romance. General Custer should have lived in a less sordid age.




And that comparison with the charge of a Sioux chieftain, that has a very ironic ring, doesn't it? It does from the post 1876 perspective.


But again, it foreshadows what we were talking about in the previous episode, that there are kind of weird parallels between Custer.




And particularly crazy horse, the extraordinary commander he'll face at the little Bighorn.


There are indeed, particularly to do with a hair, I believe, Tom.


Yeah, it's a hair. But we're also now seeing, aren't we, you know, his ability to charge on a horse.




So it's all stacking up.


So the question is, what's Custer going to do after the war? The first thing that happens is he ends up being sent to Texas with his sort of patron, General Sheridan, who we talked about last time. Very short man, very fierce, little Phil.




And they've been sent to Texas for two reasons. One, Texas had actually never been conquered by Union armies. So slavery up to this point has been very much in force in Texas, and they have to basically impose their control. But also they're very anxious about Mexico. So there's a war in Mexico, as we talked about in an episode of the rest history a long time ago.


Yeah. A friend of the show, Maximilian.




The emperor Maximilian, the brother of the austrian emperor Franz Josef, has been installed by Napoleon III as emperor of Mexico. There's an uprising against him. The Americans are very anxious about this. They want a strong Union army presence in Texas on the other side of the border. They send Custer, and he has a terrible time in Texas, basically. He's very good at cavalry charges, but he is terrible at managing men when they have nothing to do, isn't he? He's just a bad man manager. He's a bad middle manager. You need a good man behind a desk.


Well, he's all about charging.




And if you're just sitting around in barracks, there are no opportunities for charging. Although, as we will see, Custer is quite good at manufacturing. Opportunities for dashing around.


He is the other issue that starts to become apparent now. And this, by the way, is going to be important all the way through to the end of this series, the end of Custer's life. Custer is politically not on the same page as many of his associates and his superior officers. So people who heard the first episode, which I hope is everybody will remember that he was a Democrat and that he was actually, before the war, he was very kind of sympathetic to the south. Now we're into the period called reconstruction, where it's basically slavery has been abolished. What are you going to do with all the formerly enslaved people? Are you going to give them something? Are they going to be equal citizens? What's going to happen to them? And what's going to happen to the old Confederates and the government of the south? And there are some people, radical Republicans, as they're called, including his patron, General Sheridan, who are much more. They're kind of hard line against the southerners. They're like, these people are rebels. They're racists. They're white supremacists. Through force, we will institute a new order. And then there are people like Custer who are just, let's all be friends again.


Actually, who cares about all the freed slaves? I don't really. My heart doesn't bleed. That's what Custer thinks. His heart doesn't bleed for them because.


As we said in the last episode, he's friends with lots of these confederate officers. He was at West Point with them.


He is exactly right. His father, Emmanuel, who is obviously a massive influence on him, is exceedingly racist. You know, there's a lot of sort of banter, which I won't repeat, about black dolls, black babies, all this kind of stuff. He's always making racist jokes. Custer's wife, Libby, when they go to Texas, she gets right in with the kind of Texas planter classes. You know, she's sat going to balls and wearing a big dress and sipping mint juleps.


Vivienne Leeing around and all that.


Yeah, Vivienne Leeing, exactly. And she says, and I quote, the Negroes in Texas and Louisiana were the worst in all the south. Her letters betray the extent of her prejudice. So the Custers have a very miserable time in Texas because he's basically being told, you have to impose the new law, and he doesn't like it. So then he leaves Texas in early 1866. He's a bit of a loose end now, most biographers say, you know, this is just a hiatus in his career. Who knows what to make of Custer here? His most recent biographer, TJ Styles, is brilliant on this. He says, actually, this is the period most clearly reveals Custer's true self. It was a time when he pursued some of his deepest interests and indulged in some of his greatest pleasures. And actually what he wants to do, he basically wants to reinvent himself as a New Yorker, as a New York tycoon.


So in other words, it's not his dream to go to the great plains. No, it's his dream to hobnob with.


Plutocrats and totally is what's so great about this, Tom, is if he had lived, he'd have been first on the Titanic, wouldn't he? Yeah, he'd have loved it. Because all the kind of people that he hangs around with are very much sort of titanic, first class passenger people.


Well, he's hanging out with the Astas, isn't he?


The Astors. I long to become wealthy, he writes to his wife, not for wealth alone, but for the power that it brings.


Okay. And so when he's talking about that power, you know, there is talk, as we will see, that he attacks the native american encampment in the way that he does because he wants the news of it to reach New York in time for the centenary of independence and thereby give himself a leg up for the presidency. Do you think at this point, when he talks about power, is he thinking about political power or is he thinking just about financial power?


I think he loves dabbling in politics, and he does it again and again in this episode and subsequent episodes. He can't stop himself, even when it's extremely, extremely damaging to his military career. He's always interested in politics. He's one of those people who will bore about it, you know, late at night, I think. I think it's social status as much as anything. As you said, he loves hanging out with John Jacob Astor III. He goes to Wall street and the brokers will give him six cheers. And he makes remarks from the president's chair in the stock exchange. He loves all that. You know, he is from a small town, nothing town in Ohio, and then he spent time in this other little town in Michigan. He's just a boy from nowhere, and I think he likes the company of millionaires. And I think it's the combination of the money, the attention, the fame, and politics is part of that. But I don't think it's his single driving thing. What's so interesting, when he's in New York, he goes to say, clairvoyant. Did you see this? The story about the fortune teller? She's useless. She says, you'll have four children.


You'll live to old age, die of natural causes. She tells him what he wants to hear because he writes to Libby afterwards. He says, I was always fortunate since the hour of my birth and always would be. My guardian angel has clung to my side since the day I left the cradle. This is the gibberish that the fortune teller is giving him.




And then she says, you're clearly thinking about going into one of two things, railroads or mining. And Custer says, unbelievable. Absolutely. Right.


But does she also say, dominic, you'll be going on a journey, of course.


And meet a dark stranger?




No, but I mean. Cause he is about to go on a journey, isn't he?


He is about to go on a journey. Well, what he wants to do, he.


Wants to go to Mexico and fight against Maximilian.


Fight against the Emperor Maximilian. And Ulysses S. Grant actually writes him a reference. A very fine cavalry officer. Splendid Spanish, you know, would fit in very nicely in the world of Mexico. But actually, the american secretary of state says, we can't send such a well known person. You know, it's diplomatically a very, very bad move.


Annoy the French.


So they actually say, well, we'll send him to Kansas. He's going to get posted to Kansas, which is very disappointing, I think, if you've been toying with a Mexican.




I mean, hanging out with the Astas.


Yeah, you've been hanging out with the Astas. And then you thought about going on a mexican holiday. No, you're actually going to Kansas.


Oh, yeah.


With apologies to all our listeners in Kansas, of course.


Of course. But before then, you see, he still can't stop himself self destructively dabbling in politics. So at the end of 1866, President Andrew Johnson, who had succeeded Lincoln, who's from Tennessee and is very, very unsound. Tom, on reconstruction. Andrew Johnson, because he basically wants to bring reconstruction to an end. He's a bit racist. He wants to just make friends with all the old Confederates and stuff.


So he's basically. I mean, he is Custer only president, kind of.




And he's bizarrely campaigning against his own administration, and he launches this unprecedented campaign. No president has ever done this before in the midterm elections. It's called the swing around the circle. And he goes and he campaigns violently against the most sort of radical Republicans. And Custer goes with him. Custer is on the platform with him. He's shouting at hecklers, he's giving speeches. And a lot of the other officers, including, indeed, especially Ulysses S. Grant, basically the supreme commander of the army, they are really perturbed by this. This is really bad form from Custer, and it turns them against Custer. And that will be really important later, that Grant thinks that Custer is basically an attention seeker, unreliable and politically totally unsound and on the wrong side.


And so when he gets posted to Kansas, is that an exile, and is it meant to be seen as an exile, do you think?


That's a really good question. I think it definitely is an exile. It definitely is an exile. Is it meant to be punishment? No, because he's posted to Kansas even before he's spotted his copybook politically. So I don't think it's a sort of. It's a penalty, but I think, you know, it's a really miserable outcome for Custer.


Not, we hasten to say, for the benefit of listeners in Kansas, because, God.


You'Re very anxious about those kansan, fine.


People of Kansas, but because it's an awful place to be a soldier specifically.


Right. Yeah.


So what has happened is that the Union army has been cut to the bone. It's under enormous pressure because of the task of reconstruction. They've had to put lots of kind of garrisons in the south, but reconstruction's critics are busy attacking the army and saying it's wasteful and it's a drain on the economy. Of course, that's a way of kind of preserving their own power, the power of the white supremacists in the south by attacking the army. Troop numbers generally in this period fall by about half. So what's left is a real rump. And if you stay in the army, it's seen as very much not a great option, really, unless you're at the very top of it. The people who were left in the army, the people that Custer is now associating with, I think by most accounts are just terrible. Peter Cousins, who's a very distinguished historian of the indian wars, he says not all of the soldiers were bummers and loafers, as the New York sun alleged. There were also a disproportionately large number of urban poor criminals, drunkards and perverts.


Well, that's good to know.


So lots of them are illiterate, most of them are untrained. So there's a lot of conversation in all the historic about the indian wars, about whether they have enough guns or whether they have the right guns. Peter Cousins says, doesn't matter whether they had guns or not because they didn't know how to use them. You know, they fire them and they'd hold them backwards and they'd go off the wrong way and stuff.


But they're not completely useless.


They're pretty useless.


But there are quite a lot of people of kind of slight foreign legion quality to it.


Yeah, totally.


So there's an old Etonian, isn't there, who ends up.




Shot feathered.


Mister Williams, I think his name is something like that. Williams with a Y. Bizarrely, yes.


I'm not saying the Teutonians are necessarily brilliant soldiers, but there are people who go there consciously wanting to sign up.


From abroad, and they're the ones that are good.


So they're kind of Italians and, yeah.


If you actually look at the 7th cavalry in 1876, year of the Little Bighorn, a huge proportion of them came from Germany. More than a 10th, about a fifth of them, came from Ireland. There were Canadians, Danes, Swiss, French, Italians, Swedes, Norwegians, Spaniards, Greeks, Poles, Hungarians and Russians. So basically, the image that you have of the 7th cavalry, which is kind of all american boys, it's just not right.




It's basically the dregs of society, without sounding too harsh, like a columnist from the Daily Express and, you know, Poles and Germans and all this kind of thing.


And Etonians.


And Etonians. Exactly. They live in the most horrendous conditions. General Sherman, who had to do a report on their conditions, said, basically, you could use the army conditions as an advert to show the cruelty of slaveholders in the south.




They are such terrible conditions. Their uniforms are rubbish, their guns often don't work. Everybody says they're in these forts. They spend all their time drinking, gambling and visiting prostitutes and these sort of camp laundresses who double up as ladies of the night as well.


Well, yes, Evan Connell in his book says the west was not dull, it was stupendously dull. And when not dull, it was murderous.


So, yeah, sounds great. Not brilliant.


But he does say that there are ways for them to spice things up. So one of them, which I thought did sound fun, was that they provoked fights between colonies of red and black ants.


Okay. I wondered where that was going.


So you'd enjoy that.




I mean, I'm not massively into ant baiting.


Well, so on the topic of laundresses.




There was a notorious occasion when a misses Nash. Yeah, very popular figure. Not just a laundress, she was a nurse. Sadie, my wife, will be thrilled to hear that. She was a very good midwife as well.




But she invariably wore a veil and was often described as being rather peculiar looking.


Oh, no, where's this going?


And anyway, she marries this guy. The guy, the day after the wedding, is seen looking ashen faced. And then he deserts, marries again to this guy called Noonan. They are very happily married. You know, they seem very contented couple.




And then misses Nash is very, very ill and dies. I suppose she's misses Noonan by now. And as she's dying, she says, you know, please don't tend to my body, just throw me in a ditch.




You know, they're not going to do that.


So they pay her all the respects. That are due her, and they find that she's a man.




What did Mister Noonan make of Mister.


Noonan says he'd had no idea.




So one of his friends says, I'd always wondered why you weren't going to have children. And then the following week, he shoots himself.


He shoots himself?


Yeah. Crikey.


So did he know all along, do you think?


Who knows, Dominic? Who knows? It's one of the imponderables of history. I mean, that's the kind of thing that's spicing life up, I guess, on the frontier.




Custer would find that.


No, Custer wouldn't approve of that at all.


I don't know how progressive Custer is.


But on the topic of Custer, I think. I mean, I think he has a talent for making the best of a bad job.




And I think that that's where, you know, Ian Frazier's description of him as a man who is capable of having fun is absolutely true. So he has lots of animals with him. So he has lots of dogs. So we mentioned Byron, but this is just, you know, one of lots. He's surrounded by them and he trains them using hunting horns and all this kind of thing. And when he's at Fort Lincoln.




Where's that? That's in Dakota, isn't it?




His menagerie consisted of about 40 dogs, a pelican, a porcupine that sometimes slept on the customarital bed, as well as various other wild or half wild things. And he saw no reason to deprive himself of his pet stag hounds when it was time to go to work. And so basically, wherever he's going, he's surrounded by these dogs, and he uses them to kind of go hunting whenever he wants. So he's arrived in the west and he goes on this insane buffalo hunt. He's taking his men out, they're going out into the wilds. He suddenly sees a buffalo, goes careering off. Nobody knows where he's gone. He ends up shooting his horse through the head while he's aiming at the buffalo. He's riding alongside the buffalo, right? Aims his rifle, shoots his horse through the head.


That speaks volumes about the ability of the.


I know, but it's all fun.


Not the horse.


The buffalo goes charging off. The horse is dead. He's surrounded by hostile whoever, Cheyenne, and he doesn't know what he's going to do. But you remember what the clairvoyant said, he's always lucky.




He walks in a, you know, he just flicks a coin, decides where he's going to go heads off in that direction and runs into the 7th cavalry again.


Yeah, lucky, lucky general.


So that's what he's all about.


He's also very keen on. He stuffs animals, doesn't he?


He does.


So he's fond of animals, whether they're living or whether they're stuffed.


Yeah, because you were saying in the episode we did about monkeys he'd like to see Ian Botham stuffed. Remember that?


Did I? Yeah.


You said he liked to stuff Ian Botham and put him in Tauntum sec. Did I counter cricket? I don't know.




That's a massive segue.


That is a massive segue. I wasn't expecting to go down that conversational.


But he would have got on terrifically with Custer.


I think Ian Botham is a kind of custer figure.


I mean, in many ways, they're the same person.


Yeah, aren't they?


Anyway, not everybody likes Custer, though, Tom. So you like him. Ian Botham would like him. But a man called Frederick Benteen despises him, and this is very important.


So Frederick Benteen, I mean, he looks. He looks quite odd, doesn't he?


He looks like a man from a Hallmark greetings card, I think.


Do you think?


I think he looks like someone from a much loved character actor in an Ealing comedy playing a maiden aunt.


Yes, I can see that. He looks like a man being led away in Operation Yew tree to me. Actually, you'll have to google that if you're not british. So he. One biographer calls him a soft faced but bitter man. Nathaniel Philbrick has a very nice portrait of Captain Benteen. He says Benteen had an easy southern volubility about him. But lurking beneath his chubby cheeked cordiality was a brooding, utterly cynical intelligence. His icy blue eyes saw at a glance a person's darkest insecurities and inevitably found him or her wanting. And Custer was by no means the only commander he had belittled and despised.


Dominic, this is sounding very familiar. Chubby cheek cordiality.




I don't have icy blue eyes.


Brooding, utterly cynical intelligence.


Come on.




So you're Custer in this analogy, are you?


Is that.


Is that where you are?




Constantly being stabbed in the back.




While you're stuffing your animals, shooting your horse in the head, innocently hunting buffalo. It's all great fun. Benteen despises Custer. And the important thing about this is it's twofold. Number one, a lot of what we know about Custer's final days, final hours comes from Benteen. And number two, Benteen plays an absolutely crucial role in the battle of the little Bighorn. And there was always speculation. If Benteen had made different choices, might Custer have lived to see 1877? So the fact that Benteen hates him from this point, you'll say, by the way, absolutely loathes Custer's wife, is going to be very, very important. So the broader picture, just as we approach the break, the broader pictures, they've been sent there because of a looming conflict with the Cheyenne. So these are nomadic high Plains Native Americans, Indians, whatever terminology you like to use. And we will probably be incredibly inconsistent when we. Tom. Yeah, whenever there's any doubt about these things, we just use every possible permutation.


Well, I think what it is is that Native Americans is obviously the phrase. It tends to be used today. Yeah, but that when people are talking about them in the 19th century, they tend to use Plains Indians.






So we'll be slaloming between those two.


We will be. We absolutely will be. In the next episode, we will be talking more generally about the context of what were then called the Plains Indians. So we won't get massively into that now, but just to give us a sense of the Cheyenne, the cheyenne were originally from the woods of Minnesota. They had moved south and west, so into Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, as they would become as far south as Colorado and Kansas, even Oklahoma. Like lots of the so called Plains Indians, they had taken very quickly to the horse. Horses have become massive to them, and through that, they had got massively into the culture of the bison. So bison hunting had become a bigger and bigger, bigger thing. And their world has always been changing enormously in the last 150 years, as they get into the bison hunting, as they get the horses, they're affected by disease. And all the time, their world is changing because of migration. So people coming across their lands to go to the west coast of the United States on the Oregon trail or following the rivers.


So the railroads are the big thing, aren't they?


Yeah, the railroads are huge. So they perceive the railroads as a great threat, understandably, to their way of life. And actually, I mean, just to anticipate what we'll be talking about next time, the american bigwigs, the army commanders, the politicians, businessmen, they, too, see the railroads as a way to basically extirpate the Plains Indians. So, General Sherman, 1867. He talks about the railroads, and he says, when they reach the base of the Rocky Mountains, when the indian title to roam at will over the country line between them is extinguished, then the solution to the most complicated question of indian hostilities will be comparatively easy, for this belt of country will naturally fill up with our own people. Now, the Cheyenne know this. They're not idiots. And they basically have the choice, do we fight back against this? Because that would mean massive reprisals from the Americans, or do we do nothing? In which case we're kind of doomed because all our lands will be taken up?


Or do you try and negotiate? Which is what a very prominent Cheyenne leader called black kettle does, isn't he?


He does. He does, indeed. Exactly.


But then there's the opposing kind of more militant side is summed up by the dog soldiers.


The dog soldiers. So the Cheyenne, like a lot of such peoples, have formed kind of warrior fraternities or societies mainly for bison hunting. And the dog soldiers are the most militant of these. If you're young, if you're kind of a real alpha male and you want to get war honors and you want to have an exciting time, you want to fight your enemies, you want to hunt lots of buffalo, you want lots of prestige within your, you know, within your group, you might want to join the dog soldiers. And the dog soldiers there are warrior people. They are used to fighting and conquering. So war seems completely reasonable to them. But they also have a lot of advantages. They're very mobile, they know the terrain. They sort of think, listen, we're not going to take this line down. We could actually see these people off the railroads and whatnot. I mean, it's not a massively. I mean, we know now, Tom, that it's a bad calculation.


Well, I suppose they have a sense that they've been busy fighting other groups of Native Americans, left, right and center. So they probably assume that the white people are just another people to fight against.


Yeah, I think the trend among historians now is to say, you know, obviously, I mean, we'll talk about this next time. Obviously, the native american tribes and peoples, they're never united, that they don't actually think it's us versus, you know, the white settlers. They think of the white settlers as one variable among many.


I mean, but obviously, someone like black kettle is smarter. I mean, he understands what he's up against.


Exactly. Yes, but the dog sold. They're also being provoked, by the way, of course.


Massively so.


In 1864, for example, during the Civil War, there'd been a horrendous massacre at a place called Sand Creek, where a us volunteer cavalry unit had attacked a village and they'd killed 150 people, two thirds of them women and children, completely unprovoked. A really, really horrendous atrocity that, frankly, if it had happened somewhere else to different people would be well known today. But because it happened where it did and because of the romance of the west and because of all this kind of thing, it's just buried and everybody's forgotten that it ever happened. But because of this, the dog soldiers are really kind of up in arms. And by the end of the Civil War, by the late 1860s, they're mounting loads and loads of raids. And that's what Custer has been sent to the west to handle. The guy who sent him is General William Sherman, William Tecumseh Sherman.


So that's a native american name, isn't it?


He's got a native american second name. I mean, there are so many complexities and ironies in this story. Tecumseh was a Shawnee who had fought with the British in the war of 1812. So obviously a splendid man, Tom. Yeah, we very much approve of him.




Sherman has been given his name as a second name because it connotes nobility, prowess.




I mean, I hate to use the phrase because it's obviously such a loaded phrase, but it's the noble savage, isn't it? That sort of stereotype that was there in the 18th and 19th century?


I think it's a bit more than that because I think Tecumseh was. I mean, he was a power player.




He was a really significant figure. I mean, he wasn't just a kind of doomed romantic.


No, I guess not. So anyway, Sherman. Sherman was one of the big stars of the civil war for the Union camp, for the north. He had led this famous march through Georgia, scorched earth policy. His name is Mudd in the south, but he's a great war hero for the north. He's a very kind of grizzled man. You know, he's a kind of ruthless commander. Sherman has very complicated views about the Plains Indians. On the one hand, he feels quite sorry for him. He says, I feel pity for the poor devil who wriggles against his. And he hates people who are exploiting the Indians or who are treating them as less than human or any of this kind of stuff. On the other hand, Sherman says explicitly, it's an inevitable conflict of races, one that must occur where a stronger race is gradually displacing a weaker.


And Dominic, that's not so dissimilar to Custer's attitude either, is it?


It is Custer's attitude, isn't it?


Yes, because Custer also is very much a white supremacist, thinks in terms of race but does also say repeatedly in his autobiography, my life on the plains, which Benteen witli called my lies on the plains. Yeah, but in that, he says, if I were an Indian, I would not want to go on a reservation. I would fight.


He does say that a lot of the military men say stuff like that. They say, I respect the Indians, and if I was an Indian, you know, I'd be one of them. I'd be fighting, too, but I'm not. And we have to win, and they have to lose, and that's just the law of nature. That's the way they express it. So Sherman says, right, full crackdown on the Cheyenne. He sends another war hero, Winfield Scott Hancock, to command the expedition. Winfield Scott Hancock is a veteran of Gettysburg, as Custer is.


So that's Pickett's charge, wasn't it?


He had seen off Pickett's charge, the high watermark of the Confederacy. So in other lights, Winfield Scott Hancock is a good guy. But I think in this story, that would be a very. That would be a stretch, Tom, to say the least. He actually is itching for war. He can't wait to have a crack at the Cheyenne. And when he marches out at the end of March, 1867, he takes with him eight companies of the 7th Cavalry, and of course, at the head is their commander, George Armstrong Custer.


So shall we take a break there? And when we come back, we will see how that all goes and what Custer's role in it is.




Welcome back to the rest is history. And we are following Custer on the war trail. He is marching out to take on the Cheyenne, and he is in the Hancock expedition, Dominic, which, on the 27 March, 1867, marched out of Fort Riley. And it puts on quite a show, doesn't it?


Yeah, it's huge. It's 1400 men at that point. I think it's the largest american force, United States force, that has ever been assembled on the Great Plains. And they're, you know, they're jangling kind of cavalry and stuff. I mean, it's a very impressive sight. And there are some big names.




Some absolute celebrities. So you've got Wild Bill Hickok, who's got a kind of a multicolored jacket. He's got these tremendous mustaches, which are kind of blowing in the window.




You've got Henry M. Stanley, who will go on to discover Doctor Livingston in Africa.




And end up with a statue in Wales. And, of course, there's Custer.




Who likewise, I mean, is thoroughly dressed up for the occasion. So he's kind of wearing buckskin. He's got his revolvers, the holster sticking forwards rather than backwards, which is very well, Bill Hickok, isn't it? That's what it's kind of trend he's set.




He's got moccasins. Knee high moccasins.


What a thing. And he's got his dogs, Dominic. He's got his five favorite hunting dogs, Rover, Lou Sharp, Fanny and Rattler.


So hold on, Fanny. He'd been nicknamed Fanny, hadn't he?


What is going on there?


But Rover could not be more banal. I'm disappointed with Custer for that.


But when he goes back to New York, he can consult his therapist about all this.


He can indeed.


But for now, he's galloping off. It's all very exciting.


So in April, 12 April, they've been gone for about just over two weeks. They meet the leaders of the Cheyenne, and this is a very, very strange encounter. So there's a big burning fire. It's an evening meeting. The Cheyenne are there in their absolute finery. So they've got blankets, they're painted, they've got kind of huge arm rings, and their scalp locks are adorned with silver disks. And all this kind of. They look fantastic.


But not the big feathered headdresses. No, because that is Lakota.


That is Lakota Sioux thing. Exactly. And Hancock handles this in a very peculiar way. He's incredibly aggressive. He says, now, I've got a lot of soldiers. He says, I've got more soldiers than all of you put together. I've heard that. You want to fight. Well, brilliant. Bring it on. We can't wait to fight. I've come prepared for war. If you're for peace, you know the conditions. If you're for war, look out for its consequences. And he knows they're very perturbed about the railways. And he says to them, we're building railroads and we're building roads out the country. You mustn't let your young men stop them. The steam car and the wagon train must run. And this guy called tall bull, who's kind of puffing his pipe and says to him, look, the railroads are very bad for us. They're putting great pressure on the buffalo. When people come, they're shooting at us. They're kind of taking potshots at buffalo out of the windows of the trains, taking potshots at us. It's very poor form from the settlers. And Hancock says, yeah, you are losing your buffalo. Nothing we can do about that. The white men are becoming a great nation.


You must keep your young men off the roads. Don't stop the trains and travelers on the roads, and you won't be harmed. And then he just says, I have spoken, and goes away again. And the meeting ends. Now, unbelievably, Hancock, who has conducted this meeting in this fashion, after the meeting, when people say, how do you think it went? He says, oh, terrible. I've never been so poorly treated in my life. They were incredibly disrespectful to me.




He's been unbelievably rude and sort of preemptory to them.


Do we know what the Cheyenne thought of it?


Well, Cheyenne clearly are very offended by this. From Hancock.


Yeah, he would be.


But Hancock, he's decided that he's going to be offended, whatever they do. I mean, they could have been as friendly as anything. And he would claim he was provoked. Because he clearly wants to make a name for himself on the frontier.




He doesn't want to march his troops up the hill and then march them back down again.


No, exactly. So he says, right, lads, we're going to march on their villages and make a show of force and intimidate them. He marches on their villages, the encampments. And he gets there, and he finds they're completely deserted. The Cheyennes have gone.


And this is the big thing, isn't it, that they are incredibly mobile and they know the land.




And they're not going to stand like a kind of napoleonic army and draw up in lines.




They've behaved, Tom. I think not unreasonably. They've said, this bloke's clearly on the warpath. Let's get out of here. And they've gone. Hancock arrives at the village, and he says, this is unbelievable. Poor form. The absolutely disgraceful behavior that they should have left cheating. And he says to Custer, pursue them immediately. So Custer sets off with the 7th Cavalry over the hills and gullies and whatnot. And actually, we may have slightly underplayed the Cheyennes. The Cheyenne are capable of being very brutal. Because Custer starts to get to these sort of lookout posts, gets torn with the very unimaginative name of lookout station. And he finds that it's been ravaged. And the three blokes who were sort of in charge of it, they've been burned alive, it seems like. And their intestines have been ripped out and kind of thrown all over the ground.


The Shan are great ones for chopping off the testicles, aren't they? They are leaving them on rocks.




There's a lot of this sort of conduct. So Custer sends a message to Hancock, and he says, as you said, as you predicted, the Cheyenne have butchered our men. Very bad behavior. And Hancock says, right, I'll burn the village. So he burns all the villages. Now, there's actually no evidence that the people from the village had carried this out. He doesn't care. He's just itching to do the reprisals. And, of course, this provokes, then, a general Cheyenne kind of uprising. So then there's attacks on stagecoaches, and there's attacks on settlers and all this kind of stuff across the territory. While all this is going on bizarrely, Custer has now lost focus completely because he's getting a lot of letters from Libby, who's back in one of these forts, and they've clearly had a gigantic falling out. But we don't really know what about. All we know is that Custer is sending her all these letters where he's saying, I know I promised you never to look at other girls. I wish I'd never saw those two again, and all this kind of thing. So, clearly, he's been carrying on in some obscure way with other women.


It would be fair to say he has a high sex drive.




He's let himself down, Tom.




I don't know whether it's just flirtation or whether it's something more.


I mean, this question of whether it is flirtation or something more is something that will come up towards the end of this episode.




So listeners bear that in mind.


Well, also, he's trying to cheer himself up by reading the Anatomy of melancholy by Robert Burton.




That wouldn't cheer me up.


That wouldn't cheer you up at all. That's a mad book to have taken on a frontier expedition.


And so he gets very scratchy, doesn't he? And everyone's basically deserting, and so he kind of lashes deserters. He mows some of them down.




Refused to give medical treatment to the survivors.


He's losing it, actually, I think.




He's heading towards Colonel Kurtz territory, isn't he?


Yeah. People get drunk. They're made to wear barrels, aren't they? They stick the head and the feet, and they have to kind of walk around with this, looking like a barrel, human barrel, for kind of a week or something.


It's a very strange punishment, isn't it?




I think life on the frontier, the way you describe it, I mean, that business with misses Nash, people having to dress as barrels, ant fights. That's not what I expected. I thought it would be all shootouts and gambling.


But against that, I do think that Custer is capable of finding excitement in the most extraordinary places. And he's obviously very kind of depressed down on his luck, putting people in barrels, all this kind of thing. And then he gets direct orders, doesn't he, to go out and roam the.


Plains looking for the Cheyenne.


Roam the plains. And he doesn't. And so Sherman sends a guy called.


Kidder, Lieutenant Kidder, this is a bad business.




Tell him, you know, do what you're told. Custer, as usual, is not obeying orders. And kidder, he's got a Lakota scout with him. He's got ten men to look after him, going towards where Custer is. And they get ambushed by the Cheyenne. They do, and horribly, horribly murdered. So Custer writes, the sinews of the arms and legs have been cut away, the nose of every man hacked off, and the features otherwise defaced. We could not even distinguish the officer from his men. Lots of testicle hacking, all that kind of thing. But Custer, in my life on the plains, he phrases this in the most extraordinary way. He imagines them being chased, cornered, and murdered. And he says how painfully, almost despairingly exciting must have been this ride for life. And that, I think, does really sum up something distinctive about Custer, that he can imagine that as being exciting, as being fun. Also, what is typical is that Custer at no point expresses any guilt about the fact that these poor people have been killed because of him.


Yeah, he should be very guilty about this because they've been sent out to bring him orders. And if he'd actually obeyed his earlier orders, this might not have happened. So at the time, I mean, he says it's exciting in his memoirs, but at the time, he's deep in his kind of pit of despair, isn't he, about his wife? Because he's also got a letter now from somebody who says, you want to look after your wife a little closer because apparently she's been carrying on with the man called Lieutenant Weird, who is described as a handsome and charming young alcoholic.


That's probably the. Probably the best you can do in a 7th Cavalry fort.


I guess so. So Custer is desperate to be reunited with her, and he just completely ignores his orders. Even after the kiddo massacre, again, of course, shoots off across the plains, driving his men very hard. Lots of them are kind of deserting. They're dropping dead around him. You know, they're exhausted. Some of them go missing. He won't send out a search party for them. And then actually one bloke ends up being killed by the Cheyenne. They basically leave him behind. And finally, when Custer gets to one of these forts, he is arrested. You know, he's just gone completely bonkers. He's arrested, and he ends up being charged with a gross dereliction of duty.


Not unreasonably, as well he might.




I mean. And in October, 1867, he is found guilty, and he is actually suspended for a year. And at that point, you could say he's really let himself down.


Tom, do you want to know how he sums this episode up? In my life on the plains, I'd love to. He doesn't mention it. He says to enter into a review of the proceedings which followed would be to introduce into these pages matters of too personal character to interest the general reader.


That's great. I should bear that in mind for when I'm. For I'm disgraced in later life.


Making your statement exactly at your Cotswolds Gate.




These are matters that are too personal to be of interest to the general public.


So actually, he is then rescued by politics. Weirdly, he's so bad at politics, but politics rescues him, because all while this has been happening, all the while reconstruction, the great controversy about reconstruction has been going on on the east coast and in the south. And his old patron, General Sheridan, who's been the military governor, basically, of Louisiana and Texas, and is, as it were, on the side of the angels. So he wants to demolish the apparatus of white supremacy. He wants to get rid of the old confederates. He wants black people to have the vote. He's very controversial. It sets off a huge political firestorm. And eventually Ulysses escarrance, who's the supreme commander of the army, to sort of shut up the south, he decides he's going to swap Sheridan and Hancock. So Hancock will go to the south and Sheridan, you know, to get him out of the equation, he'll go over to the west. And Sheridan wants Custer back. He thinks Custer is tremendous at this stage.




Custer has been a good cavalry commander for him in the civil war. He thinks, you know, Custer has blotted his copybook. But I really appreciate him. He's gallant, all of this kind of.


Thing, but this whole kind of dashing around, disobeying orders. I mean, in a sense, that's part of point of Custer.


Yes, I suppose.


So you can rely on him to do something dashing, even if a little bit mad.


Exactly. The amazing thing, actually, is that Custer, even at this stage, is still behaving in incredibly self destructive manner in politics. So he really does need now Ulysses S. Grant to look kindly upon him because Ulysses S. Grant is the head of the army. Kloster has bought his copybook. He needs to get back into Grant's good books. The way he decides to do this is by campaigning against Grant in the presidential election and endorsing his opponent.


I mean, again, it is kind of a suicidal charge in politics. As in. As in war.




He makes a special trip to New York to endorse Grant's opponent in the presidential election, a guy called Horatio Seymour. Just bonkers from Custer, actually. Anyway, they overlook that. They're very tolerant of Custer, actually, his superiors. I mean, I don't think they do love him.


I don't.


They do find him lovable. But I think they. They're prepared to cut him a lot of slack because of his achievements in the civil war. So General Sheridan says, right, I want you back on the western frontier. You've had a year's suspension. Please come back. And the reason for this is that they'd actually signed a deal with the majority of the Cheyenne.


So this is the black kettle wing.






Basically, the Cheyenne would agree to go on this massive reservation, 4 million acres. They'd be given schoolhouses. They'd have to wear, like, western style clothes. As in european style clothes become farmers. Exactly. And this treaty, which is signed at Medicine Lodge Creek, it really. I mean, historians now say this is basically the end of the Cheyenne as an independent, nomadic hunting people. But the dog soldiers don't like this at all. They sort of rebel against it. They go on great rampages across Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, attacking settlements. They rape women, they butcher men, all of this kind of thing. They would say, these are not atrocities. These are perfectly reasonable acts of war. Of course, we might take a different view.


Well, again, it's this, you know, what's a victory? What's a massacre?


Exactly. It's that question. So Sherman and Sheridan say, right, okay, gloves off, get Custer. Custer's really good at these charges and stuff. Let us sort these guys out once and for all. And what we'll do on usually is we'll campaign over the winter. They won't expect that. They just hunker down. Normally, the winter, it's not really war season for them.


And that's the key thing, isn't it? That if they hunkered down, then they can be cornered.


Exactly. And Sherman and Sheridan, I mean, there are some historians who say these are guys who won the civil war against the confederacy by basically steamrolling. Yes, steamrollering. Total industrial warfare. Scorched earth. No, holds barred.


Get it done.


And they are now exporting that style of warfare, that violence, to the frontier against the Plains Indians who have no idea what's coming. Custer, of course, he dresses up for the occasion. He gets himself a new buckskin costume. So again, he's cutting a bit of.


A dash, takes his dogs, all of.


That stuff, and he leads out his men through Oklahoma, through the snows, and through the blizzards. And finally, he finds a big Cheyenne village on the banks of the river Washita.


So he's tracking a warband, isn't he?


He is.


And it leads it to this village. The problem is, it's the village where.


Black Kettle is based, the peace advocate.


The peace advocate, yeah. They could not be less hostile.


It's a terrible irony, Tom. Anyway, Custer has got to this village. It's night. He says to his men, he's got about 800 of them or so, and he says to them, right, we'll divide up into four parties, no fires, total silence. We'll wait till dawn. The signal will be. They have a sort of irish jig marching song called Gary Owen. And he says, we'll play this song. The band will play. That's when we attack. And there's a really telling exchange. One of his officers says to him, and this brilliantly anticipates the disaster at the Little Bighorn, because one officer says to him, what if we find more indians than we're expecting? Costas says, you know, there's no such thing as too many. The problem will be, if we find too few, we want loads so we can deal with them.


Kill them all.


Kill them all. There are not Indians enough in the country to whip the 7th cavalry. Very hubristic statement, of course. So they wait. And they know there are women, children in the village, of course, because they can hear children crying. They can hear babies crying things.


And they can hear dogs, can't they?


They can.


And then one of Custer's dogs barks, and he orders it strangled, and only one of the dogs is spared. Blucher, his favorite stag hound, who then, in the fighting, gets killed because he attacks the wrong people.


Tom Custer and his brother Tom strangled dogs with leather Lasso's. I mean, that is brutal.




So dawn comes, the smoke begins to rise from the indian lodges below Cheyenne lodges. And Custer says, right, ban strike up. Dawn is breaking. And they charge. And all the accounts say Custer loves it. They're charging down, blazing away with their revolvers. The shine are taken totally and utterly.


By surprise because the sentry had been asleep. Yes, which is very unshean behavior.


Well, they're not expecting it, are they? In the winter, you know, it's cold. They don't think the Americans will strike. They ride in. It's very wild west, sort of Hollywood scene, but for the fact that actually, when you get close up, you realize just how horrendous this all is. So Custer's men have a sage guides, so arrival plains people, who are the.


People who make all the money, don't.


They, in killers of the flamoon? Yeah, they behave pretty, how would I put it? Unsentimentally, I think is one way of putting it, Tom. So they are ripping Cheyenne apart, committing all of these kind of atrocities, cutting off their people's heads, beating their brains out, all of this kind of thing. Custer's own men undoubtedly committed what we would consider as the most appalling atrocities. They shoot a pregnant woman, rip her stomach open, they take scalps, they fire deliberately on fleeing women and children. Now, Custer is told this, and there's no doubt about it, Custer tells them to stop it. So Custer will discuss, I suppose, how much criticism, how much condemnation he deserves for this because he could reasonably say he's just following. He's doing exactly what he's been told to do. But he does try to stop his men from shooting women and children. On the other hand, he says, round up all the men and kill them all.


And Dominic, round up all the ponies.




So he kills all the ponies. So they do. One of the troopers says it was pathetic to hear the dismal trumpeting. I can find no other word to express my meaning of the dying creatures as the breath of life rushed through severed windpipes.


875 ponies they killed. And then they set the whole village on fire and they burn it. And there are loads of controversial things that happen. They realize, actually this is a smaller village and there's a bigger one over the hill. And warriors are arriving from the bigger one. So they round up the women and children, they use them as hostages and by using them as kind of human shields almost, they kind of faint to march towards the big village. The warriors will retreat to defend their village. Then Custer kind of turns and they march away.


And this is Custer's innovation, isn't it? The discovery that if you round up women, then the men won't attack.




And this again, is something that will perhaps explain what he's trying to do at little Bighorn.


Exactly. Meanwhile, one of his men has gone missing, a guy called Elliott.


He's a major, isn't he? Yeah, he's seen careering off, yelling, here goes for a brevet or a coffin.


Well, he gets. He gets one of those.


He gets a coffin.


He gets a coffin. Elliot goes missing, and Custer doesn't search for him, which is regarded by some people, benteen in particular, as extremely bad form. So they actually find Elliot and 17 other men having been butchered by Cheyenne warriors.


They find them testicles on the rocks again and all that.


Yeah, exactly. In total, Custer probably killed. I mean, he claimed himself 103 people. Some claim, actually fewer, but the Cheyenne kind of peace advocates. So there's horrible irony there, black kettle. And even at the time, in the east coast newspapers, this is controversial. When the news of the Washita river battle or massacre breaks, some people say, oh, this is too much. You know, women and children, all of this.


I mean, it's interesting that, isn't it? Because anyone who's seen the film little big man.




This is stage knit.




And I think that was made around the time of the my Lai massacre.


Yeah, 1970, 71. I think it was something like that.


And the parallel was very, very overt. But that's not entirely anachronistic. There is kind of liberal opinion on the east coast that does regard this as a war crime.




I think actually, most historians, most of Custer's biographers now say, by the standards of the frontier, Custer is not doing anything especially unusual.


Well, Sheridan, the battle of the Rasheeta river is the most complete and successful of all our private battles, and was fought in such unfavorable weather and circumstances as to reflect the highest credit on yourself and regiment. Yeah, that's him writing to Custer.


TJ Styles says, the criticism of Custer is not that it's a bad battle, but it's a bad war, and that he is a symbol of that war. The very existence of the United States was predicated on the dispossession of the indigenous. If Custer was wrong, ultimately it was only because the nation was wrong, says Stiles. I mean, I think Custer has become a kind of shorthand, hasn't he, for what's perceived as the unfairness, the imbalance of these conflicts. I mean, I don't have a. Do you have an easy answer, Tom? I don't think there is an easy answer to these kinds of issues. I mean, I think reading it as an outsider, you kind of recoil from the horrendous violence dealt out towards unsuspecting villagers. But, of course, lots of Americans listening to this might say it was a war. They did what they had to do. What do you think?


Stephen Ambrose wrote a paired biography of Custer and crazy horse, and he writes about the Washita and says, it's terrible slaughter, but at the same time, the integrity of the United States required the annexation of it. What were prospectors to do? All this kind of thing? And that would be the perspective, I guess, that was traditional throughout the 19th into the 20th century. Obviously, it's changed very radically, I think.


Yeah. Really?


Since burying my heart at Wounded Knee?


Yes, totally.


So it's the early seventies. I mean, late sixties, early seventies. And I think it's very difficult to side with a cavalry troop backed up by all the mechanized might of a great industrial nation descending on women and children.


And, yeah, I agree with you, Tom.


There's nothing heroic about it.


Exactly. It's very hard to tell that story while understanding that Custer is a man of his time, that all of those men are men of their time, while understanding the political pressures and the expectations and the cultural baggage they carried with them. I think if you make a film of it, let's say it would be impossible to make a film in which they are the heroes and in which this is a stirring, swashbuckling scene. It's a horrendous scene.


And there's one further consideration which adds to that, which is the fate of the women.




So you said Custer stops the women from being killed. He rounds them up. The women clearly expect that they're going to be horribly tortured, because I guess that's what they might do in the other way round.


Yes. By the way, we shouldn't idealize. I mean, the Cheyenne perpetrate what we would consider horrendous violence against their american captives.


I wouldn't really want to be captured by either of them. I have to say.


No. Agreed.


But anyway.


Sorry, Tom, I interrupted you.


So women are rounded up. One of them is Black Kettle's niece, who is a 17 year old girl, is described as having beautiful, luxuriant hair. She's very feisty. She had been previously married and shot her inadequate husband through the knee. And Custer loves her, doesn't he? I mean, he's very, very keen on her.




Mona Sita.


And the question of, you know, how far does that go? But there's kind of rumors of reports of stories, one of them coming from Benteen, but one of them coming from one of Custer's scouts, who'd have no real reason to lie.




That basically these women are being pimped out by the translator, who's called Romero, but is nicknamed Romeo.


There are enough different accounts of this. So there are accounts from the Cheyenne that say that after the battle or the massacre, depending how you describe it.


It'S a massacre, isn't it? I mean, it is a massacre.


It is a massacre, totally massacre. I mean, it's got women and children, it's got a village where they're unsuspecting. If the Vikings had done this, Tom, you know, in Wessex, we would describe it as a massacre. We wouldn't say a battle and a heroic story. We'd say a horrendous massacre. And I think it is a horrendous massacre. The Cheyenne say that afterwards the women are divided up and turned into sex slaves. And the fact that Custer's own scouts tell this story as well suggests to me, you know, they're not colluding in.


It and the scout didn't want to be named. I mean, yeah, it totally makes sense.


It's not beyond the realms of fantasy. We know that Custer, as you said earlier, he's got a very high sex drive, he has clearly let his wife down in some way, repeatedly, it's claimed.


Again much later, but who knows? That he gives her a child.




Who's called, what was it? Yellow bird.


I think that's not sufficiently well attested, but I do think undoubtedly there was very, very bad behavior after this massacre. So, actually, at the time, although there's lots of criticism, Custer's chiefs are very pleased with him. They regard him as having completely redeemed himself.


Well, because he has got round the problem of, how do you pin down indian opponents and demonstrate your power as the US military? Because they haven't been able to escape.




They haven't been able to just kind of move out. And so this idea, which Custer demonstrates that you can firstly divide your forces up and kind of hammer an anvil so, you know, multiple prongs, crush them nuts between a nutcracker.




And secondly, that you use women and children as hostages. These are both developments that Custer has patented, and he will undoubtedly remember that these are effective tactics.


Yes, people should remember this when we approach the battle of the little Bighorn. But are there even going to be more battles, Tom? Because in early 1869, summer of 1869, the campaign ends. The dog soldiers are completely beaten, the Cheyenne have basically been crushed, western Kansas and southern Nebraska have been cleared. The railroads can continue, settlement can continue. General Sheridan is very pleased with Custer. And actually, lots of people say, you know what? The indian wars, so called, are over. Because in March 1869, despite Custer having endorsed his opponent, Ulysses S Grant becomes the next president of the United States. And Grant says, listen, it's a new era in our dealing with the people of the plains. He says he gives control over indian policy. It's always described as his Quaker policy because he gives loads of Quakers, Methodists, sort of evangelical Protestants. He says, you sought out the indian policy, spread the word. Let us have a more enlightened, liberal approach. People will remember from the previous episode that Appomattox, when General Lee had surrendered on behalf of the confederacy. He had said to grant secretary, who was a Native American, he had said, oh, at least there was one american here.


This guy is Eli Parker, who is a Seneca from New York. And Grant now says to Eli Parker, you are my new commissioner for indian affairs. You are an Indian. You know, let's have a new era of friendship and cooperation. And Grant, in his inaugural address and speeches, generally, he says, let us have friendship. We will build reservations. We'll have reservations, big reservations, lots of great facilities, lots of food, supplies, where the people of the plains can be integrated and we can live in friendship. When I said, let us have peace, I meant it. I don't like riding over and shooting these poor savages. I want to conciliate them and make them peaceful citizens. You can't thrash people so that they will love you even though they're Indians. You will make enemies friends by kindness.


Well, basically, he wants to treat them like immigrants, make them Americans, assimilate them.




Dissolve them in the melting pot. Whether they want to be dissolved, of course, is. It's a very different matter.




But at the time, everybody says, hurrah. The peace policy, the new age has dawned.


It's woke indian fighting.




The end of our indian wars. The hatchet will be buried from Oregon to Texas. So maybe, Tom, there'll be nothing for Custer to do. But as we'll discover next time, things were to work out very differently, because next time we will be plunging into the world of the Lakota Sioux, and we'll be meeting some absolutely rip roaring characters, won't we? Crazy horse, red cloud and crazy horse, all the lads. Yes. And the pace will quicken as we move forward towards the Titanic showdown at the little Bighorn. But wouldn't it be lovely if there was some way in which a very keen listener could actually hear that episode right now?


So rather than just kind of sitting in an army base and all that kind of thing, instead you could gallop across the prairie and, Dominic, the amazing thing is, and this will come as a complete revelation to regular listeners, there is a way of doing that there is. You can go to and subscribe and you can get all the episodes there and a whole host of other benefits as well. So huge excitement.


It's actually even better than joining a Cheyenne warrior society, the dog soldiers. Yeah.


But if you don't want to join up, that's absolutely fine.




You twiddle your thumbs in some cans and fork, you'll get them in the long run.




So lots more to come. Hope you're enjoying it. And we'll be back either straight away or very soon with the sue.


See you then.


Bye bye.


Bye bye. Tom, I've just learned some absolutely extraordinary and exciting news. And anybody who's a history lover, anybody who, like me, loves spending their summer at festivals, will delight and rejoice at this news, won't they?


They absolutely will. And the news is that in June, it is the chalk history festival in Broadchalk in the Chalk Valley, the very village in which I grew up. My brother James and I, we talked about this the other day on a restless history bonus episode. But for all of you who didn't hear that, I can't recommend the festival enough. There's an unbelievable array of talks from top historians and others beside. Plus a mass of other things to see and do. Live music every day, living history performances, and of course, lots of food, drink, camping, all historically themed. And an absolutely stunning setting.


It's an amazing setting, Tom, and it's a real highlight of my year. I've had it inked into my diary for months. Really looking forward to it. And the highlight of the week, I have to say, has to be our special live performance of the rest is history, which we will be doing on the Tuesday, won't we? Tuesday, the 25 June.




So that's the day you'll be there, Dominic, I know you've got to head off after that, but I will be still there doing a host of other things. And basically I'll be there for most of the week. So please do join us. Tickets are on sale now and you can get and that's c H A l K e. So chalk with an e on it. Festival. It'll be wonderful to see you there.