Thursday, June 27, 2019

Audio A While Ago: "Greasy Grass" by Johnny D. Boggs

Audio A While Ago: Greasy Grass: a story of the Little Bighorn by Johnny D. Boggs, 2013 print publication and 2018 audio version, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Nuts. I forgot Boggs wrote this. I have really enjoyed all his work and this is no exception. A great retelling of the Battle of the Little Bighorn/Greasy Grass.

Boggs uses the voices of historical people to tell the story. Some of these stories are listed as letters, diaries, court documents, etc. Audiobooks never have endnotes or bibs so I do not know if Boggs used primary docs or took reliable information and put it into a character's voice. Boggs uses both Native warriors and Army soldiers and sprinkles in the voices of relatives and children and others.

The main part of the story concerns the entire event: movement and politics before the campaign by Custer, step-by-step account of maneuvering and battle by both Native and US Army units. Boggs also builds are interest by having characters talk about their background and what they think of other people involved.  Boggs also puts in the hatred and racism and classicism of the time. Natives as subhumans. Officers as a better class of people. Immigrants as drunks. Women get stuck with a dude whether through love or desperation.

A few things I recall and enjoyed the details of.

  1. Weapons. I've read about the theories on firepower of Native versus Army. How the tribes had repeating rifles and the Army single shot rifles. There is some neat talk about ballistics (I do not recall the details) and ammunition. The ammunition information is interesting because the Army was using copper cartridges. Unlike brass the copper cartridges would split from the pressure or not shrink back to size. This meant the cases were stuck in the chamber and required a cleaning rod or stick to clear the rifle.
  2. The topic of battle trauma. A few soldiers are suffering from the trauma of battle, either the Civil War or the Indian Wars. The Natives don't seem to do so as much. Both sides consider each other subhuman or otherwise as lesser beings. Dehumanizing the opponent to make killing easier is no new thing. But, if the culture and society and fighter are all firmly believing in both that and their cause does that lessen the after effects? Native Warriors are fighting for their land and their families - a possible massacre was literally over the horizon - and believed when they recited "It is a good day to die." Does that mean they had less PTSD? 
  3. The issue of Custer blundering about and splitting his forces. I doubt it would have mattered. The 7th Cavalry was fucked. There were 700 US Army soldiers versus 1,500 to 2,500 Natives. And Custer expected the tribes to haul ass rather than attack and fight. 
  4. Controversy of whether Captain Reno was drunk and cowardly and therefore made awful decisions. I don't know or care but Boggs has Reno's voice from a letter to a son where Reno repeatedly has to declare he was sober. 
  5. The surviving soldiers had to wait a couple days until rescue. Wounded men had to travel downriver for several days on a steamship to a hospital. 
  6. Nepotism happy Custer got a bunch of his family killed. 
  7. Custer also had an Native mistress for a time during a previous campaign. Not sure how much of a mistress she was seeing as how she was just likely hooked up with  him out of desperation. Better to mooch off a Army officer than starve to death.

1. We visited the battle field last August (2018) and it was freaking HOT. The existing battlefield is
pretty big and takes time to drive across. I don't see how Custer's split cavalry forces would have been able to travel over the 1-2 miles separation and reform and successfully fight. The battlefield includes a walking options and a audio narration through either cell phones or car radio - I don't recall which.
1.A. Original rifle pits are still there. I spent a decent amount of time on the battlefield walking with Boy #1 through the section of Reno Hill where the surviving unit stayed.
1.A. The official battlefield tour does not include a grouchy son and bored wife. You'll need to plan ahead and bring your own.
2. The story brings to mind the topic of Who Do We Remember and Why? I suppose Custer was a celebrity but there are plenty of famous people who fade away over time. Custer's wife lived until 1933 and defended Custer's legacy with three books and speaking engagements until her death. Sure, the rule of "The winners tell the tale" applies but the recent furor over Confederate statues and dedicated buildings means the losers do as well.

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