Custer and the Old West from Old West Books
The Old West from Old West Books.
By Michael Stillman
We recently received our first catalogue from Old West Books of Arlington, Texas. For those not up on Texas geography, Arlington is a compromise between Dallas and Fort Worth, home of the Arlington Rangers baseball team, and future home of the Arlington Cowboys football team (though Arlington does not receive proper credit). Anyway, if Arlington today typifies the new west, it was once in the heart of the old, and a most logical place to look for memoirs of the time. Old West's Catalog 17 offers 336 books, some as old as the Old West, others of a more recent vintage but still about days past. All pertain to the era of Cowboys and Indians.
The catalogue is broken into three sections. The first is Custer, that unfortunate warrior who is remembered almost entirely for dying. The second is headed Native Americans, Indian Wars, Military. The final section is Lewis and Clark. For those who collect, or with an interest in America left of the Mississippi, this catalogue will lead you down many happy trails. Here are a few samples.
It has long been said that no one from the 7th Cavalry escaped Custer's Last Stand, but that is not true. Surviving to bear witness to this terrible massacre was Comanche, the horse of Captain Myles Keogh, one of the many cavalry humans who did not survive. Comanche had proven his mettle under battle numerous times before, withstanding arrows and other injuries to lead his rider into combat again and again. This time, Keogh didn't make it, but the badly wounded Comanche was found wandering the battlefield two days later by army troops. He was nursed back to health and became a symbol to both the army and the non-native population of America in general, seeking heroes for its wars against the Indians. Comanche was retired, never to be ridden into battle again. He would lead an occasional parade, was given the honorary title of "Second Commanding Officer" of the 7th Cavalry, and reportedly developed a fondness for beer, in which his fellow soldiers indulged him. Comanche lived another 14 years, dying at the ripe old age (for horses) of 29 in 1890. His body was stuffed and displayed at the famous Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. His preserved remains were then returned to the University of Kansas museum where they are still on display today. In fairness to accuracy, it should be noted that Comanche was not the only cavalry horse to survive the battle. Others who survived in better shape were taken by the Indians. Item 6 is the biography of this once famous horse, Comanche The Horse That Survived The Custer Massacre, by Anthony Amaral, published in 1961. This copy is a first edition, signed by the author. Priced at $140.
A messy scandal in Washington almost saved Custer's life, and would have but for his protests. War Secretary William Belknap was one of the most egregious violators of the public trust during President Ulysses Grant's scandal-ridden administration. Belknap traded appointments in the West for cash. The luxurious lifestyle of his wives (he had two while in office, but don't worry, they were not his wives at the same time) led to great suspicions.
Custer and the Old West from Old West Books
Two celebrities from the Old West: Comanche and Ezra Meeker (with ox cart).
The House of Representatives investigated, and proceeded to vote unanimously for his impeachment (the only cabinet secretary ever to be impeached). Belknap immediately resigned, but the Senate went on to hold a trial anyway. Among the witnesses whose testimony in this March 1876 trial was damaging to Belknap's defense was that of George Armstrong Custer. Custer's testimony evidently angered Grant, who deprived Custer of his command. Custer was terribly despondent when his troops were called to fight the Indians without him, but managed, with the help of other generals, to put enough pressure on Grant to get him to relent. Custer was allowed to rejoin his troops, which proved beneficial to no one (except, perhaps, the aforementioned Comanche who earned a comfortable retirement). Three months after his testimony, Custer lay dead at Little Big Horn. Item 2 is the Proceedings Of The Senate Sitting For The Trial Of William W. Belknap Late Secretary Of War On The Articles Of Impeachment. Belknap was acquitted, the 35-25 vote against him falling short of the two-thirds majority required for conviction. However, the "acquittal" may have reflected the belief of some senators that conviction was superfluous, Belknap having already resigned, rather than a belief in his innocence. Belknap, like Comanche, died in 1890, but without the honors. $300.
Ezra Meeker was a most remarkable traveler. In 1852, he was one of the many pioneers who crossed the Oregon Trail with a team of oxen. That was not unusual, but what was different was his decision to make the trip back east by oxcart 54 years later, when he was 76 years of age. Of course in 1906 he could have taken a train, but Meeker was a tough old buzzard, and the purpose of his trip and book was to encourage the government to preserve the trail. His book, Ventures and Adventures of Ezra Meeker, or Sixty Years of Frontier Life, Fifty-Six Years of Pioneer Life in the Old Oregon Country... was published in 1909. Remarkably, Meeker would make the trip again the year after the book was published, at the age of 80, and in later years, would make the trip by train, car and even airplane. He lived to be 98. In the years between journeys, Meeker found the time to start up the city of Puyallup, Washington. Item 209 is a copy of Meeker's book inscribed by the author. $130.
This book records the ending of that era in the American West that began 10,000 or more years earlier when humans first crossed into the land that would one day be called "America." Item 144 is Joseph Dixon's The Last Great Indian Council. In 1909, the chiefs of many tribes, now confined to reservations, gathered in the valley of the Little Big Horn for one last meeting, dressed in native wear, to reminisce about the old days, including their last major victory over Custer. This 1913 book contains their stories along with pictures from this final gathering. Item 144. $850.
The website for Old West Books is, logically, www.oldwestbooks.com. Their phone number is 817-557-4830.