I would write across the sky in letters of light this undisputed truth, proven by every annal of history, that the only way to help yourself is through loyalty to those who trust and employ you.
It was in the Spring of Eighteen Hundred Seventy-six that the Sioux on the Dakota Reservation became restless, and after various fruitless efforts to restrain them, moved Westward in a body.
This periodic migration was a habit and a tradition of the tribe. For hundreds of years they had visited the buffalo country on an annual hunt.
Now the buffaloes were gone, save for a few scattered herds in the mountains. The Indians did not fully realize this, although they realized that as the Whites came in, the game went out. The Sioux were hunters and horsemen by nature. They traveled and moved about with great freedom. If restrained or interfered with they grew irritable and then hostile.
Now they were full of fight. The Whites had ruined the hunting-grounds; besides that, white soldiers had fought them if they moved to their old haunts, sacred for their use and bequeathed to them by their ancestors. In dead of Winter, when the snows lay deep and they were in their teepees, crouching around the scanty fire, soldiers had charged on horseback through the villages, shooting into the teepees, killing women and children.
At the head of these soldiers was a white chief, whom they called Yellow Hair. He was a smashing, dashing, fearless soldier who understood the Indian ways and haunts, and then used this knowledge for the undoing of the Red Men.
Yellow Hair wanted to keep them in one little place all the time, and desired that they should raise corn like cowardly Crows, when what they wanted was to be free and hunt!
They feared Yellow Hair–and hated him.
Custer was a man of intelligence–nervous, energetic, proud. His honesty and sincerity were beyond dispute. He was a natural Indian fighter. He could pull his belt one hole tighter and go three whole days without food. He could ride like the wind, or crawl in the grass, and knew how to strike, quickly and unexpectedly, as the first streak of dawn came into the East. Like Napoleon, he knew the value of time, and, in fact, he had somewhat of the dash and daring, not to mention the vanity, of the Corsican. His men believed in him and loved him, for he marched them to victory, and with odds of five to one had won again and again.
But Custer had the defect of his qualities; and to use the Lincoln phrase, sometimes took counsel of his ambition.
He had fought in the Civil War in places where no prisoners were taken, and where there was no commissary. And this wild, free life had bred in him a habit of unrest–a chafing at discipline and all rules of modern warfare.
Results were the only things he cared for, and power was his Deity.
When the Indians grew restless in the Spring of Seventy-six, Custer was called to Washington for consultation. President Grant was not satisfied with our Indian policy–he thought that in some ways the Whites were the real savages. The Indians he considered as children, not as criminals.
Custer tried to tell him differently. Custer knew the bloodthirsty character of the Sioux, their treachery and cunning–he showed scars by way of proof!
The authorities at Washington needed Custer. However, his view of the case did not mean theirs. Custer believed in the mailed hand, and if given the power he declared he would settle the Indian Question in America once and forever. His confidence and assumption and what Senator Dawes called swagger were not to their liking. Anyway, Custer was attracting altogether too much attention–the people followed him on Pennsylvania Avenue whenever he appeared.