The original Broadway play poster for "Hair"

The original Broadway play poster for “Hair”

When I was a kid in college, a play came out on Broadway in 1968 that was an instant and controversial success — “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.”

A product of the hippie counter-culture and sexual revolution of the 1960s, several of its songs became anthems of the anti-Vietnam War peace movement. The musical’s profanity, its depiction of the use of illegal drugs, its treatment of sexuality, its irreverence for the American flag, and its nude scene caused much comment and controversy. The musical broke new ground in musical theatre by defining the genre of “rock musical”, using a racially integrated cast, and inviting the audience onstage for a “Be-In” finale.

Hair tells the story of the “tribe”, a group of politically active, long-haired hippies of the “Age of Aquarius” living a bohemian life in New York City and fighting against the draft into the Vietnam War. Claude, his good friend Berger, their roommate Sheila and their friends struggle to balance their young lives, loves and the sexual revolution with their rebellion against the war and their conservative parents and society. Ultimately, Claude must decide whether to resist the draft as his friends have done, or to succumb to the pressures of his parents (and conservative America) to serve in Vietnam, compromising his pacifistic principles and risking his life.

The show ran for 1,750 performances on Broadway. Simultaneous productions in cities across the United States and Europe followed thereafter. At the time, I saw the production in San Antonio. It was the first play I ever saw and the music and story were just phenomenal. We even got to participate in the “be-in” up on the stage at the conclusion of the play. That was an even added plus to make it such a memorable event for me.

But the music of the play never went away. I have just never forgotten “Aquarius,” “Let the Sun Shine In,” “Hair,” “Easy to be Hard” and other music.

Getting rid of the stubble ...

Getting rid of the stubble …

So, it was not that unusual that all these songs came swirling through my head today — the first time I have sat in a barber’s chair in decades. Most of you who know me know that I have been follicly challenged as long as I can remember. Either Patti or I would trim my hair from my bald head whenever it needed it. I just never had enough hair to warrant paying for a haircut.

But there are late developments.For example, last month I started chemo with gemcitabine and abraxane and the mix of these two drugs has caused my hair to fall out.  Well, most of it. One day in the shower, what little dark hair that remained fell out, leaving only white hair. Since then, the white hair has slowly disappeared leaving just a little bit of ugly stubble that left me with a “cancer-y” look.

The tool of the day -- the razor blade

The tool of the day — the razor blade

So, today I entrusted a ‘professional’ to use a straight razor to get rid of what little stubble that was left on the head. Now I am completely bald and the part of the head that the barber shaved feels more like a baby’s bottom that the top of a 62-year old man’s head. My understanding is that as long as I continue with the chemo, the hair loss will continue.

I don’t mind, just as long as I have a little sunscreen wherever I go.

Chrome dome

Chrome dome

Gimme head with hair
Long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming,
Streaming, flaxen, waxen

Give me down to there hair
Shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there mama
Everywhere daddy daddy

Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it
Long as God can grow it
My hair

Let it fly in the breeze
And get caught in the trees
Give a home to the fleas in my hair
A home for fleas
A hive for bees
A nest for birds
There ain’t no words
For the beauty, the splendor, the wonder
Of my…

Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair

Years ago, as a freshman at Southwest Texas State University, i was in school in San Marcos but had been dating a girl from Houston, my hometown. SWT, back then, was known as a suitcase college, meaning that there was nothing to do on the weekend, so go home (wherever home was) and spend it there.

The girl I was dating, Connie, was attending Stephen F. Austin State University, in Nacogdoches, so we weren’t going to be spending many weekends in either San Marcos or Nacogdoches. And, as a 19-year old guy, when Connie was happy, so was I. To that end, Connie probably had a love for music that was likely a little “headier” than mine. That summer, before school started, she and I had gone to quite a few concerts in Houston.

When I tell you “who” we saw, you’ll get a chuckle: The Supremes, the Beach Boys, the Association (Windy), Peter, Paul & Mary, The Turtles, Janis Joplin, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, we saw ’em all. Remember, tickets back then were about $2 for very good seats. I can’t tell you how many times I would end up on 1st or 2nd rows.

Sunshine Superman himself

Sunshine Superman himself

But there was one performer that Connie just absolutely loved and I sorta liked: Donovan Leitch. As I look back on it now, he had some very good songs, I just never put it all together till now. For his concert that summer, we had 2nd row center seats at Houston’s Music Hall. On the stage were nothing but two rugs some microphones and incense burning. And, of course, we had to wear love beads because Donovan was, after all, a peaceful fellow. I also wore a Nehru jacket. If you know what that is, I’m sorry for you AND me. If you don’t recall Donovan’s hits, they included Mellow Yellow, Atlantis, Sunshine Superman, There is a Mountain, Jennifer Juniper, Wear Your Love Like Heaven, Season of the Witch, Mellow Yellow, Catch the Wind and Lalena.

Now, come to think of it, he had quite a few hits. So, where is all this going?

December and "Mellow Yellow"

December and “Mellow Yellow”

In December, I was having loads of nausea, an intimate acquaintance of the toilet. The docs wanted to put in a stent in the bile duct, so the liver could get some relief and waste could exit normally. But while we were waiting to get the stent in, I kept losing weight and my skin color was increasingly jaundiced. Everything was yellow. Family did call me mellow yellow. And I was yellow, including the whites of my eyes. I was starting to get a bit alarmed.

In the "pink" after stent recovery

In the “pink” after stent recovery

So while I was in the hospital for the stent, we occasionally would hum “they call me mellow yellow.” We had a lot of fun with that. After the stent was placed, the rest of December was primarily recovering from the stent. My chest was hurting and I couldn’t sleep. But we’ve made that adjustment: the chest no longer hurts, the yellow has disappeared and, by all accounts, things are getting better. I’m putting on a little weight. I have no nausea and no one is calling me “mellow yellow” these days, which is a real gift.

Oh, also, that Donovan concert was very good. Haven’t the foggiest idea what Connie is doing these days.

If you’d like to get reacquainted with Donovan, click on the link that follows:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsP989jIWNU

Here are just a few odds and ends from a busy week of treatments. Sorry, for its length, folks.

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damian

Since Patti and I have started this posting about my battle with pancreatic cancer, loads of friends and family will tell us to “kill that snotty little bastard damian” or some other such directive. I still don’t like giving the respect that a capital D would do.

After waging this war with the snotty little bastard, I would like to weigh in with a bit of a”postscript.”

I believe damian has already lost this war. The snotty little bastard is a loser. Here’s why. This whole cancer fight is really a fight between good and evil. And damian sure doesn’t represent good. What damian really wants me to do is lose faith in God, or blame God for this cancer, or be angry with God because I have this cancer. In short, lose faith in a loving God.

That is just not going to happen.

I believe in a loving God that is happiest when we are happy, worry-free, care-free and feel His presence all around us. Here’s an example from 1 John 5:14:

“This is the confidence that we have in our relationship with God: If we ask for anything in agreement with His will, He listens to us. If we know that He listens to whatever we ask, we know that we have received what we asked from Him.”

__________

A favorite song — Asleep the Snow Came Flying

I don’t think it is new to say that the way we live our lives can be called the music of our life. Look at any good song and life is woven through its melodies, lyrics and notes.

While I certainly agree with this, I also believe that music stirs the soul, moves the body and affixes itself to our atoms and corpuscles. It becomes us.

imagesTo set the stage for one of my favorite songs, let me take you to Beartown Lakes Park, near Chagrin Falls, Ohio. It’s a very small park. Blink twice and you miss it.  First you go down one gravel road, then you turn down a dirt road and when you get to the end of the dirt road, you are there. It has a beautiful tranquil lake, loads of surrounding trees of a wandering variety but loads of maples, a dike at one end that serves as a great sliding surface for the little buggers in late Spring and Winter. It has a meandering hiking trail that goes around the lake and a good portion of one side of the lake is covered by a wooden walkway. In short, it’s one of my favorite places on earth. When Patti and I lived there, we’d go to Beartown at least once every season.

One year, Patti and I were kidless — they were away with friends — and we headed to Beartown. It had been snowing outside, sky was completely covered and the snow was the slow falling kind that seems to put a muffled blanket on any sound. When we got there, we noticed that all the trees were somewhat bare, but starting to get a gentle covering of slow, lightly touching snow. The ground was white. No breeze to speak of. We could see each other’s breath.  By this time in Winter, the lake was frozen. Our footprints were the only ones showing on the trail and the only sound anyone could hear was the crunch of booted feet on the snow path.

We had a great visit to the lake that afternoon, sat on a bench to watch the quiet snow come to rest on the ground. While we were talking, I couldn’t help but throw in a verse or two of Robert Frost’s Stopping By the Woods On a Snowy Evening. I just love that poem. Because of that day, whenever I hear this following song from Tim Story, I am overwhelmed with the beautiful sentimentality that Patti and I experienced when we went for that walk along Beartown Lakes. While some may say it’s a bit dark, I don’t think so. I think it accurately reflects the quiet stillness of an overcast day when the snow falls in abundance, but steadily quiet and, perhaps, timid.

So, here’s Asleep, the Snow Came Flying

__________

First chemo treatment and stent placement

Last Wednesday, we spent about an hour with Sharon at Texas Oncology. She basically gave us a pep talk about what chemo can do, what it can’t do, what some side effects could be and the impact on quality of life. She was very direct and very good. There was no question we had that she did not have an answer. After learning all we needed to know about Gemzar, we moved to the infusion center, where I was to get my first round, along with many others who were already in their infusion process.

When I walked into the room, the first thing that came to mind was riding alone on a train through Europe in 1972, reading Alexandr Solzhenitsyn‘s Cancer Ward. The novel tells the story of a small group of cancer patients in Uzbekistan in 1955, in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union. It explores the moral responsibility — symbolized by the patients’ malignant tumors — of those implicated in the suffering of their fellow citizens during Stalin’s Great Purge, when millions were killed, sent to labor camps, or exiled.

So, as you can imagine, the description of the wards was dire, grim, ghastly. That was not what I saw at Texas Oncology. There were small units of five chairs in a semi-circle, attended by one nurse each. Everyone appeared comfortable. Either a friend or family member sat next to many patients. It was mostly very quiet except for the nurses behind a counter that served as a gathering spot for all the nurses tending to patients. It was so good to see people who did not feel uncomfortable or in any pain. One man lay next to me and he pulled his skull-cap down over his eyes and slept through his treatment. A woman next to him was noticeably shivering. Her lips were quivering and her body soon followed suit. But very quickly, attendants brought her a warmed blanket and she quickly stopped the quiver and seemed to fall asleep quickly.

Patti and I waited and soon the nurse administered the lead wire to the port in my right upper chest. Most nurses who deal with my port “gingerly” administer the leads, or flush the port, but gingerly indeed. Thomas, my nurse who has been doing this work since 1985, just rammed the needle into the port. It so shocked me that I forgot it hurt for a moment.

When the chemo was complete an hour later, we simply got up and left. No drama, but as I left the infusion room, I turned around to notice other patients coming in, others leaving. Cancer is just as much a part of life as laughing or weeping. We will see if any side effects manifest themselves. We pray not.

The stent — On Friday, I was admitted to Seton hospital to have a stent placed in my bile duct to eliminate my yellow cast and to allow for easier discharge of waste naturally through the bile duct. An hour on the table and an hour in recovery and I was on my way home. They were successful, but they had to be “aggressive.” That’s short for: “It’s gonna hurt like hell afterwards.” Which it did.

First couple of days, no sleep because I could not find a comfortable position since my chest hurt. But it’s Monday and I’m starting to feel better and the chest pain has, for the most part, subsided.

My good friend, Joe, said it better than anyone: “There is something to be thankful for every day, not just one day a year.”

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth"...

“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thank you, Joe, for keeping this day in perspective. After all, the cynic in me believes that Thanksgiving was devised by the American Turkey Growers Association, or some such lobby. Of course, my cynicism is probably borne by a certain amount of truth

And, to evidence of Joe’s belief, this week has proven what he said. As a cancer patient with a current bile obstruction, I was hoping the doctors could remove the obstruction and place a stent Sunday. However, the doctor at the hospital could not complete the procedure, and suggested I meet with an oncologist for further instructions. Does that sound like someone wanting to avoid being the bearer of bad news and force that role on someone else? Yeah, I thought so, too.

Then, we met with Dr. Jerry on Tuesday and walked away from that meeting with a vastness of hope. Mind you, not the kind of hope that our current acting president offers to those who swallow his Kool-Aid.  But real defining hope.

Just this next week we have a meeting with another gastroenterologist, and low-dose chemo starts Wednesday. So, there is hope.

But, as a cancer patient, my list of things to be thankful for may be slightly different from the average Joe, and they are in no particular order:

  • A loving God who shows me His presence in a soft breeze, a whisper, a slow stream, a beautiful sunset or a quiet room
  • Having choices because they help us to appreciate the array of care that God has for each and every one of us
  • Understanding about “windows and doors,” in that God doesn’t close a door but what he opens a window and what that means to my life right now
  • Seeing brightness every morning through the window next to my bed
  • Having a wonderfully supportive family that is there 100 percent of the time, including my wife who calls me “cancer boy” — and that always makes me smile
  • A growing stable of good, close friends who are enlisted troops to help fight that snotty bastard damien, and they know the best way to win the fight is through humor (God bless each and every one of you)
  • A growing, almost insatiable, need for the emotional satisfaction that a really good song brings to my senses
  • That I can still weep every time I hear Louis Armstrong sing “What a Wonderful World,” or that I can jump up and dance whenever I hear Frankie sing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”
  • Over the years, I was fortunate to travel often, and I have a quiver of vacation memories to last a lifetime
  • In summary, I am thankful that the universe still seems boundless to me, and I can find something to feel good about every single day.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share these with you. God bless you and your families. Be safe in your travels over this holiday weekend.

As a conservative, I was very disappointed by the election results Tuesday.

The U.S. is always changing…

On purpose, I stayed away from the news shows next day. I surely did not want to watch any Wednesday-morning quarterbacking. He could have won if he’d only done this … He did win because he was better connected to his base … He just didn’t appeal to voters … He didn’t lose much of his base from 2008 … blah, blah, blah …

I just didn’t want to hear it. At the end of the day on the day before the election, TV reporters and pundits and anchors and just about anyone with a microphone and camera in front of them admitted the following: “It’s just too close to call. Nobody knows.”

I agree and this epiphany occurred to me.

I need to change MY behavior. Not yours, not any one else’s. Just mine.

Here’s how the epiphany occurred:

I watched the election results on several shows Election night. I particularly liked Diane Sawyer slurring her words. But, as I watched the results come in, it reminded me of a story I had read on the Internet about a week ago. A PBS newsperson, not Jim Lehrer, but a newsperson nonetheless, gave a speech in Seattle, Washington. The fundamentals of his speech included:

  • The reason we are so disconnected and disunited as a country is largely the blame of the media
  • The supposed “demand” by the public to provide news that is aligned with their political thinking helps none.

I read through the gist of the story on this newsperson’s speech and found myself really paying close attention to what he was saying.

Years ago, he said, the average American got his/her news from ABC, CBS or NBC for 30 minutes each evening. He explained that as a nation we watched assassinations, walks on the moon, Vietnam battles, elections and other major events TOGETHER through any one of these three networks. So, even if the media was tainted back then, people got their news from one of these three providers. And when they talked about major events with friends or work acquaintances, there was this feeling that on major subjects the networks dispensed similar news reports. How did CBS cover the assassination? I watched NBC’s broadcast. People who were connected at work, with very little in common, could talk about the news because regardless of race, gender, political belief, etc., they could reach common ground by being united in watching the same news broadcasts.

And he mentioned that as the interest in cable programming has grown, the interest in tailoring news channels to a person’s particular cultural way of thinking became such a novelty and a quickly embraced one that new niches of news broadcasters like MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, etc. began to appeal to a particular “cultural value” held by the viewer. There are cable channels directed to blacks, Latinos, just about any ethnic group you can imagine.

For ratings appeal, and advertiser dollars, the channels began to very clearly define their audiences. Not one network or cable news outlet can claim to give its viewers “straight” news. Fox claims to give the viewer a “fair and balanced” view, but that is ludicrous. It’s conservative in nature. MSNBC and CNN? Well, need I say more about these two?

But, with the media, particularly some of  the cable news providers, so tailored to liberals, uh progressives, and some so tailored to conservatives, there is little opportunity for these folks to mix and match ideas. As the newsman pointed out, a conservative viewer who watches Fox News rarely takes the opportunity to watch Chris Matthews or Joe Scarborough and seek out progressives to exchange ideas. As people, we “tend” to gravitate to those around us who appear to believe as we do, act like we do, enjoy the same things, etc. But we should seek the differences in people, too. This just doesn’t happen as much as it should. I discussed with a close progressive friend of mine, Dave, what the newsperson said in his speech and Dave reminded me, “Derek, do you remember just a few years ago it was really hard to tell a Republican from a Democrat?” I thought about it, and he was right. Not too long ago, it was hard to distinguish one from the other.

Now, as the newsperson’s premise, we’re digging ourselves only deeper into the personal and cultural divides that separate us so strongly now.

So, I have decided to change. As a conservative, I usually get my nation/world news from Fox News. Not gonna do that from now on. I’m gonna go back a few years and watch my world/nation news from ABC, NBC or CBS in my time zone from 5:30-6 pm ONLY. I won’t give up on reading the news. I am a former newsperson and it is hard to get that out of the blood.

And, today, I caught a good summation of what really happened in the election, and it was by George Will of the Washington Post. In short, he cited the GOP‘s inability to read accurately the changing demographics among diverse groups in the U.S. This division separates us and separates us greatly.

Here’s Will’s article: And the winner is: The status quo

I will avoid watching news all day. That will give me more time to invest in actions and activities that are truly important to me, like finding a way to get term limits installed in Congress.

And, when I vote, I will vote the principles and values that I hold dear,  whether they are changing around me or not.

George Armstrong Custer, U.S. Army major gener...

Lt. Col. George Custer with his long hair  Photo by Wikipedia

This is the last posting related to the recent Western Swing that Patti and I made through some Western states in April and May.

I saved this one for last because I have been fascinated with the Custer myth and the westward expansion through the Plains since I was a child. Plus, there is just something about the death of this mythic character that continues to stir the imagination generation after generation. While I will not attempt to regale you with the entire story here (there are scores and scores of detailed books on the subject that are much better than this posting), I will try to cover some of the background that set up this battle, some little-known facts about the battle and some little-known facts that have arisen over the years about the battle.

If this short piece teases you enough to want to read more, I will share some titles of the books that are notably known for telling the Custer story.

The clash of cultures

The stage was set for the Battle of the Little Bighorn centuries earlier with the burgeoning arrival of the first Europeans to North America. The contact between Indian and Euro-American cultures continued relentlessly, sometimes around the campfire, sometimes at treaty grounds, but more often around battlefields. This contact reached its peak following the Civil War when settlers resumed a vigorous westward movement. These westward emigrants had little or no knowledge of the Indian way of life, showed very slight regard for the sanctity of hunting grounds or the terms of existing treaties. Indian resistance to this westward expansion, or manifest destiny, only served to intensify hostilities.

Note: One thing to keep in mind about this westward expansion is that it occurred simultaneously with the shrinking of the Union army following the war. For the period of five to seven years after the Civil War there were fewer soldiers than at any time in the history of the U.S. military. Consequently, to handle the rapid westward expansion, the military had to swiftly recruit, bringing in soldiers to tackle the West who had little or no training, and no knowledge of Indian culture or life on the Plains.

In 1868, the government signed a treaty with the Lakota, Cheyenne and other tribes of the Great Plains to designate a large area of eastern Wyoming to be a permanent Indian reservation to “protect” the Indians against the people of the U.S. Peace did not last because in 1874, gold was discovered in the Black Hills, the heart of the reservation, and soon thousands of gold seekers swarmed the area in violation of the treaty.

The government attempted to buy land from the Indians, but chiefs, such as Crazy Horse, and other chiefs, refused to sell. In growing defiance, Lakota and Cheyenne left the reservation and resumed raids on settlements and travelers. In 1875, the government ordered the Indians to return to the reservation by January 31, 1876 or be treated as “hostiles” by the military force. When various tribes refused to return to the reservation, the army (with very green troops) was called in to enforce the order. Consequently, the need for military protection was paramount to the settlers, and to the Indians, it was a repudiation of an honorable agreement.

Markers showing where U.S. troops fell on Calhoun Hill, near Last Stand Hill
Unmarked photos by Dorock

The Battle of the Little Bighorn (or Battle of the Greasy Grass)

Major players: Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, Maj. Marcus Reno, Capt. Frederick Benteen, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Gall

When: June 25-26, 1876

Where: East/west banks of the Little Bighorn River, southeast Montana Territory

Soldiers: Approximately 600 troops of the 7th Cavalry under Lt. Col. Custer command, including Arikara and Crow scouts

Indians: Approximately 7,000 Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Hunkpapa encamped along the Little Bighorn River, of which 1,500-2,000 are warriors

Little-known fact: Custer’s brother, Tom, who died with him on Last Stand Hill was twice awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor for his valor during the Civil War. I believe it is still true that he is the only two-time awardee of this distinguished medal in U.S. history.

Bluffs on east side of river Reno and troops had to scale to flee attacking Lakota and Cheyenne Indians

The basics of what happened: From approximately 14 miles away on Lone Mountain, Custer Arikara and Crow scouts report there is a sizable Indian encampment up ahead on the Little Bighorn River. Custer and his 600+ troops approach the river from south and east of the river. Thinking they have been discovered by the Indians, Custer divides his companies into three (one set of troops each commanded by him, Maj. Reno and Capt. Benteen). He orders Reno and his 225 troops to cross the river well south of the Indian encampment and charge the encampment. Custer and Benteen advance east of the river along the ridge (the high ground looking down on the Indian encampment).

Reno charges the encampment from south and west of the river. Convinced he is outnumbered, Reno dismounts and forms a skirmish line. Warriors charge the troops and flank Reno’s troops, forcing Reno and his troops into the timber along the river. Reno’s trusted scout is shot/killed right in front of him, spraying blood and other debris onto Reno’s face. Reno gets flustered and orders his troops to retreat back across the river; warriors pick off troops as they retreat. Approximately 40 troops are killed and very few Indians are harmed.

This photo shows the ridgeline above the Little Bighorn that Custer used to move north, parallel to the Indian encampment

The retreating Reno is joined by Benteen atop Sharpshooter Ridge on the east side of the river. Custer has already left Benteen and moved forward along the ridge, again maintaining the high ground along Nye-Cartwright Ridge. By this time, Indian warriors are charging across the river at various points, including chasing Reno across the bluffs south and east of the river, at Medicine Tail Ford at the Indian encampment and near Greasy Grass Ridge, north of the Indian encampment. Certainly, by this point, all three company commanders realize just how dramatically they misjudged the size of the enemy.

Two of Custer’s companies leave Nye-Cartwright Ridge as the entire squadron moves forward to explore Medicine Tail Coulee and whether Indians are coming across the river at this point. They are met with stiff resistance and retreat back to the ridge where they join Custer’s troops on Calhoun Hill.

Trees run along the curvy Little Bighorn. Approximately 7,000 Indians were living along the flat plain just west of the river, in and beyond these trees

Custer’s command is briefly rejoined at Calhoun Hill where Company L, under Lt. James Calhoun fights with Gall, Crow King, Lame White Man, Two Moons and other warriors. Lakota and Cheyenne quickly overrun the hill. Nearby soldiers retreat from charging Indians to rejoin Custer near Last Stand Hill. A devastating charge by Crazy Horse and White Bull cut down the retreating soldiers who are trying to rejoin Custer’s forces.

At this point, Custer and his remaining troops had moved along Battle Ridge and were hoping to approach the river and charge the encampment from the north. They are met with stiff resistance and troops retreat to Last Stand Hill. Some troops  charge or flee toward the Deep Ravine but are quickly overwhelmed and killed.

Last Stand Hill, where Custer and at least 40 troops died. Markers show where most of the troops fell

At Last Stand Hill, Custer and approximately 41 men shoot their horses for cover and make a stand. Approximately 10 men, including Custer, and his brother, Tom, are found in the vicinity of the present 7th Cavalry memorial. The remaining soldiers are found within the currently fenced area sloping down the knoll.

Two days later when troops arrived on the scene, they discovered that Custer had a wound to the chest and to his temple. Much has been speculated about the wound to the temple, however, autopsy analysis determined the temple wound was administered after he was already dead.

Aftermath: After the battle, female Lakota and Cheyenne Indians mutilated the trooper bodies so their spirits would no longer wander the earth. Indian families removed their dead, estimated to be between 60-100, and placed them in tipis and on scaffolds and hillsides. On June 28, 1876, Custer and his command are hastily buried in shallow graves at or near where they fell. In 1877, the remains of 11 officers and two civilians are transferred to eastern cemeteries. The remains of Custer and his wife, Libby, are interred at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

Memorial atop Last Stand Hill that identifies troops, scouts and civilians who died in the last Indian conflict

Fallen Indian marker

In 1881, the remains of the rest of the command are buried in a mass grave around the base of the current memorial shaft bearing the names of the soldiers, scouts and civilians killed in the battle. In 1890, the Army erects 249 headstone markers across the battlefield to show where Custer’s men had fallen. In 1999, the National Park Service began erecting red granite markers at known Cheyenne and Lakota warrior casualty sites throughout the battlefield. These unique markers are an important addition to the historic cultural landscape, providing visitors with a balanced interpretive perspective of the fierce fighting that occurred on the battlefield in 1876.

Typical marker at the battlefield of a fallen U.S. soldier

Within two days of the end of the battle, all 7,000 Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapahoe and other Indians had completely dismantled the camp and left for new locations to the south and west. Other than trampled down grass and firepits, there were very little signs a robust encampment of Indians had ever existed along the Little Bighorn.

Also, while this may have been the last great Indian war battles, within a year after the battle, all Plains Indians were on reservations.

Myths about the battle

  • Custer’s hair:At the time of the battle, Custer no longer had his long-flowing blonde locks. He had cut them short at Fort Lincoln before he began his last campaign
  • Custer was well known to the Indians:Indians at the Little Bighorn didn’t know a Custer from a Napolean — it was truly inconsequential whom they were fighting; they were defending their way of life

    One of two sites at battlefield where Custer reportedly fell. This is on Last Stand Hill within the fenced area. Another placard claims that Custer fell at the base of what is now the Memorial at the top of Last Stand Hill. Confused?

  • Custer and all his men were killed: On June 25th, 1876, the 7th Cavalry consisted of about 31 officers, 586 soldiers, 33 Indian scouts and 20 civilian employees. When the smoke cleared, 262 men died in the total battle, 68 wounded and six later died of their wounds.
  • Weapons were a factor: While numerous paintings and other historical interpretations show soldiers using sabers, actually troops left their sabers, under orders, back at the base. Some historians maintain that the Indians had better repeating rifles than the troops had. Also, troops used shells of copper in their bullets, and the copper casings stuck in the barrels, while Indians used brass in their casings
  • The last stand was a lengthy battle: In fact, most historians believe the battle at Last Stand Hill took less than two hours for the Indians to defeat and kill Custer’s troops and move toward fighting Reno and Benteen, more than three miles away along the ridges above the river
  • How the story has changed over the years: Initially, the story of the battle, particularly the fighting at Last Stand Hill, will never be known because all the participants were killed. This is characteristic of a repeated arrogance associated with the Custer myth. None of the U.S. troops lived to tell the story, but there were certainly many Lakota and Cheyenne directly involved in the battle, who have told their stories to confirm or clarify what happened on Last Stand Hill. Some historians, continuing to disregard Indian testimonials, will not include Indian versions to provide a complete, well-rounded account. However, in recent years. more historians who truly want to provide as accurate a story as can be had after all these years, include and verify Indian accounts of the battle.

Here is where scouts for Custer died. Even though they were Arikara or Crow Indian scouts, they were awarded white markers instead of the red granite markers designated for the fallen Indians

There are so many accounts of the Bighorn battle that if one chooses to research them all, a reader could get very confused. I tend to try to read the “latest” version, particularly since historians now are using more and more Indian accounts of the story in their writing. The latest book, which I found fascinating, was Nathaniel Philbrick’s “The Last Stand.”  Other good reads of the Custer story include James Donovan’s “A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn The Last Great Battle of the American West” and Stephen Ambrose’s “Crazy Horse and Custer.” Amazon or iBookstore should be good sources of additional reading material, if you are so inclined.

For a good understanding of the struggles of the Plains Indians and the Indian Wars, check out Dee Brown’s “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”

For more information, check out http://www.nps.gov/libi.

Yesterday, I posted the following picture and suggested that most red-blooded American males would easily know what this mountain is. I was, perhaps, a bit too hasty to make that suggestion.

Here’s the picture again:

Mystery mountain

Well, the reason I thought ‘most’ red-blooded American males would immediately guess this mountain is because it is also the mountain that Coors Light uses as its “mountain” on its Coors Light products. At least, that’s what I have heard from the folks in the nearby town of Telluride. Mt. Wilson is one of Colorado’s 14ers, mountains that are 14,000+ feet high. It casts a shadow over Telluride, which is on the western side of the Continental Divide.

Well, I forgot not everyone drinks Coors Light beer.  Here is a copy of the Coors Light logo — judge for yourself.

English: HTS Systems' HTS-30D Ultra-Rack Hand ...

Coors Light logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, and while we’re at it. Yesterday in Telluride, we experienced 70+ mph winds. While winds do wonderful things to Aspen trees, they can also make a mountain disappear. The photo below is a photo of the same Mt. Wilson taken from the same vantage point. Yesterday, I called it Ghost Mountain.

Photo of Mt. Wilson taken from the same vantage point as the first picture in this posting. Where the hell did the mountain go? Is David Copperfield hiding out in Telluride, Colo.?

So, where did the mountain go? Well, listening to the news here yesterday, it appears there are some significant brush fires in Paradox, Utah to the west and in some small towns in New Mexico to the south. The 70 mph winds brought smoke from those to fires into southwestern Colorado, and made the mountain appear to disappear.

By the way, today the wind has settled and the smoke has disappeared and Mt. Wilson continues to cast its shadow over the sleepy small Colorado town of Telluride. Have a good Memorial Day tomorrow, folks, and remember our troops. God bless them and their mission.

P.S. Hats off to Paul. He had the closest guess: Pike’s Peak, near Colorado, Springs, Colo. Close but no cigar, Paul. Good guess, my friend.