June 26, 2009

On the Rosebud

It has been 133 years today since the Battle of the Little Big Horn. A visit to the battlefield is a sobering experience - even today. News of the combined Indian victory spread in all directions among the Indian tribes by a combination of smoke signals and riders and did so much quicker than among the whites. The effect was electrifying among the native population and may even have emboldened the Nez Perce to resist the encroachments of the U.S.government a little more than would have normally been the case one year later in Idaho and Montana. I remember as a boy re-enacting the battle with my brothers and neighor kids - long before the anniversary of Custer's Last Stand and hit the century mark.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn — also known as Custer's Last Stand and, in the parlance of the Native Americans involved, the Battle of Greasy Grass Creek was an armed engagement between a Lakota–Northern Cheyenne combined force and the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army. It occurred on June 25 and June 26, 1876 near the Little Bighorn River in the eastern Montana Territory, near what is now Crow Agency, Montana.

The battle was the most famous action of the Great Sioux War of 1876-77 and was a remarkable victory for the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne, led by Sitting Bull. The U.S. Seventh Cavalry, including a column of 700 men led by George Armstrong Custer, was defeated. Five of the Seventh's companies were annihilated and Custer himself was killed as were two of his brothers, a nephew, and a brother-in-law. (Wikipedia)

The author of this poem, William O. Taylor rode with Custer and Reno and was one of the few survivors of the battle. His haunting lines make reference to popular songs of the day that were sung the night before the carnage. The calvary followed Rosebud Creek in their approach to the area of the Little Bighorn river.

On the Rosebud
William O. Taylor

It was June on the banks of the Rosebud,
“The Seventh” in bivouac lay,
Hard and fast on the trail of the hostiles,
We had ridden that long summer day.

And now in a bluff hidden shelter,
We had stopped for a time to take breath,
Knowing well ere the sun set the morrow,
We should ride in the shadow of death.

For our scouts, all excited and restless,
Had returned bringing with them a clue,
That beyond the Divide, in a valley,
Lay the camps of the war gathered Sioux.

And all who followed our Custer,
Knew well that a stranger to fear,
He would strike, be the odds ere so many,
As soon as their camps did appear.

As the twilight grew deeper and darkened,
And all was so quiet and fair,
An Officer group near the river
With songs woke the still night air,

“Little Footsteps Soft and Gentle,”
“The Goodbye at the Door,”
While “Maxwelton Braes are Bonnie,”
Comes to me o’er and o’er,

Songs of home and the fireside,
Songs of love tender and sweet,
And the last one, was it meant for a prayer,
Sent up from the great mercy seat?

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise him all creatures here below,
Praise him above ye Heavenly Host,
Praise Father, Son ad Holy Ghost.”

Good-night, “Good-night” and parting thus,
Each sought his soldier bed,
A blanket spread upon the ground,
The bright stars overhead.

And the next day, on the Bighorn,
Midst savage shout and cry,
And the sun was slowly sinking,
They “laid them down to die.”

Years have passed, and the bones of the singers,
Are mingled in the dust of the plain,
Yet often at twilight I fancy,
I hear once more that refrain,

“I’d lay me down to die.”

And green, ever green in my memory,
Are the songs I heard that night,
By our Officers sung on the Rosebud,
In the twilight before the fight.

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