Parker County Today December 2016 - Page 56

our history: INDIAN FIGHTERS Tale of Two Indian Fighters BY MEL W RHODES The very different lives and ends of George Armstrong Custer and Ranald S. Mackenzie DECEMBER 2016 PA R K E R C O U N T Y T O D AY F ourth of July and centennial celebrations were at fever pitch when news of what would come to be called “Custer’s Last Stand” reached the East Coast in 1876. Having disregarded orders to wait for support to arrive, on June 25, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, a flamboyant and much-lauded hero of the American Civil War, led some 250 of his men into the valley of the Little Big Horn where they were annihilated by a vastly superior force of Indians. Among the dead were Custer, two of his brothers, a nephew and a brother-in-law.  Many historians would later conclude that Custer’s gutsy acts on the Little Big Horn were actually strategic blunders that resulted in the massacre. The New York Herald on Sept. 2, 1876, quoted President U.S. Grant — who’d done a fair piece of “generaling” himself — as saying: “I regard Custer’s Massacre as a sacrifice of troops, brought on by Custer himself that was wholly unnecessary — wholly unnecessary.”  According to his detractors, after the Sioux cut down Custer and his men, a great myth began to take hold of the American imagination. Custer, who’d seldom missed an opportunity to “toot his own horn,” became the consummate American hero.  The controversy over Custer’s Last Stand continues to this day, with some defending him and others vilifying him. But no such controversy exists around Gen. Ranald Slidell “Bad Hand” Mackenzie, one of the country’s most effective Indian fighters whose passing was marked in public only by the following: “[Died] Mackenzie – At New Brighton, Staten Island, on the 19th January, Brig.Gen. Ranald Slidell Mackenzie, United States Army in the 48th year of his age.” — The New York Times, Jan. 21, 1889. This from a newspaper that had vigorously reported on the general’s masterful Indian fighting over the years. The “Fighting Colonel,” as he’d once been called, had been all but forgotten. His Spartan reports and disregard for fame ensured he maintained a low profile, but those in the know 54 General Custer and his wife Elizabeth knew well the debt owed Mackenzie. “There was no editorial appraisal, not even a news item,” wrote Mackenzie biographer Ernest Wallace in Ranald S. Mackenzie in the Texas Frontier. “Surely the public would have appreciated a reminder that Mackenzie in less than three years after graduation from West Point had received seven brevets for gallantry in action [in the Civil War], six severe wounds, and a major general’s cavalry command, that in three years of campaigning he had cleared West Texas of Comanche and Kiowa Indians, that he had brought quiet to the turbulent Rio Grande border and order to the Comanche-Kiowa Reservation, that in three months he had defeated one group of the Indians who had massacred