Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Psychologist Looks at George Armstrong Custer

George Armstrong Custer

Dr. Charles Hofling, a psychiatrist actively interested in western Americana, wrote the first full-length psychohistory of George Armstrong Custer in 1981 entitled, Custer and the Little Big Horn: A Psychobiographical Inquiry.

Some of what Hofling says about Custer could be said of virtually anyone in any age, “What kind of man was Custer?  It is the thesis of this book that a fuller understanding of the man can shed further light on the Battle of the Little Big Horn.  When one seeks this understanding objectively, without any interest in making of Custer either a hero or a villain, what emerges is the picture of an interesting and moderately complex personality, with specific strengths and weaknesses, personal conflicts and defenses, reacting to the stresses of life in ways which have a certain inner consistency.” (Hofling, 84)

     We learn that Custer had a narcissistic personality disorder that offended many persons, but was mild enough “to have permitted friendships, camaraderie, and even love….” (Hofling, 86)  Why did he have this sort of personality?  “One of the key features in any personality consists of the psychological maneuvers, particularly the deep-seated ones…by means of which anxiety is warded off and an equilibrium maintained.  In Custer’s case, it is postulated that the principal anxiety came from his tendency to regress to the passive situation of infancy….The principal defense mechanism used to ward off regression and its attendant anxiety seems very clearly to have been reaction-formation….In other words, tendencies toward assuming the passive, help-seeking, nourishment-needing attitude of the first year…were turned into the confident, aggressive attitude typical of an outward-directed older boy.  As is usually the case when a defense mechanism is used unconsciously, there is a tendency toward exaggeration in the resulting attitudes.  Thus independence, confidence, and socially acceptable aggression tend to become flamboyance and belligerence.” Hofling goes on to write, “The exaggerated quality of Custer’s daring, his tendency to bravado and unnecessary heroics, is suggestive of the use of reaction-formation in a rather specific way, producing what is often called a counterphobic reaction.  In such a reaction the subject does not show or even consciously feel the anxiety or fear which would be natural, but instead rushes to meet or even seeks out the dangerous situation.  One cannot, of course, be certain, but some of Custer’s actions seem to fall in this category.  Sometimes a cavalry charge is not the ideal way of handling a military situation….” (Hofling, 91)

     Because of some unknown and unknowable event in his infancy Custer’s life was a self-perpetuating cycle.  “A sense of humiliation and shame led to vigorous efforts at achievement, restoring feelings of well-being; after a time, a sense of guilt led to self-destructive behavior.  The resulting loss of status gave fresh stimulation to the sense of humiliation and shame and the cycle started over.” Hofling goes on to write, “Custer reacted to a sense of humiliation…with a surge of glory-seeking activity designed to wipe out the negative emotions.”(Hofling, 93)  Custer was a prisoner of his psychology, which impacted his judgment and led to his defeat.

Whatever else George Armstrong Custer may or may not have been, even in the twenty-first century, he remains the great lightning rod of American history.

General George S. Patton once said, “Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.” Here are four stories about the history of the world IF wars we know about happened differently or IF wars that never happened actually took place.

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Lost Dutchman Mine: A Treasure Map

Treasure Map

Legend tells of a fabulous mine in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains. So alluring is the prospect of unlimited wealth that it said that hundreds have died searching for the lost mine. 
The entire story began in 1748 when the Peralta family began mining silver and gold. According to family records this wealthy family operated eighteen silver and gold mines in the Superstition Mountains. With the Mexican War of 1848, law and order disintegrated in the area and the Apache Indians grew increasingly hostile, attacking the miners almost continuously. Disaster finally overtook the Peraltas in September 1848 with a general massacre by the Apaches. Following this massacre the Apaches controlled the Superstition Mountains until 1865.

Jacob Walz (or Waltz), the “Dutchman” enters the picture in 1871 with his partner Jacob Weiser.  The two immigrants purchased a map drawn by the original Peralta family and located the mine “within an imaginary circle whose diameter is not more than five miles and whose center is marked by the Weaver’s Needle.”

Weiser soon vanished...the victim of either, Indians, desperados, or Walz. The Dutchman continued working the mine, carrying the secret of its location to the grave.  It was 1891. Jacob Waltz, the “Dutchman”, was dead. But the clues he left as to the location of his mine remained alive in the dreams of Julia Thomas. Julia had looked after Walz before he died, and was the first of a long line of hunters for the Lost Dutchman’s Mine.  Julia sold all of her worldly possessions to finance a search for the mine. Armed with clues left by Walz on his deathbed, Julia and two friends spent about four weeks searching the canyons and ravines adjacent to Weavers Needle, and the west side of Bluff  Spring Mountain. The weather was so hot they spent the afternoon in the shade, and did their searching in the mornings. After suffering in the heat, and lacking sufficient water for their animals, the disappointed treasure hunters abandoned the search.  Julia then came up with a brilliant idea and began to produce maps illustrating the exact location of the lost Dutchman mine.  Although the maps were complete fabrications, the treasure maps produced a nice income for Julia.  There are more ways than one to find gold.

       Video: Is There Gold in the Superstition Mountains?

Arizona’s Superstition Mountains are mysterious, forbidding, and dangerous.  The Superstitions are said to have claimed over five hundred lives.  What were these people looking for?  Is it possible that these mountains hide a vast treasure?  Is it possible that UFOs land here?  Is it possible that in these mountains there is a door leading to the great underground city of the Lizard Men?  Join us as we recount a fictional story of the Superstitions and then look at the real history of the legends that haunt these mountains in our new book:  Gold, Murder and Monsters in the Superstition Mountains.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The First African American Cowboy Movie Star

Bill Pickett

William M. “Bill” Pickett was the most famous African American rodeo performer of all time, and the first black cowboy movie star.  In 1905 he joined the Miller Brother’s 101 Range Wild West Show.  Pickett invented “bulldogging”, now called steer wrestling.  Charging in on his horse, Pickett came up alongside a long horn steer and dropped down on the steer’s head, twisting its head toward the sky.

In 1922, Pickett starred in the silent movie The Bulldogger, a western featuring an all African American cast.  Unfortunately, only a few fragments of the original film still exist.

Pickett was inducted into the national Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1972.  In 1993, the United States Post Office issued a stamp in his honor, as one of the “Legends of the West.”

Steer Wrestling

Since his death along the bluffs overlooking the Little Bighorn River, in Montana, on June 25, 1876, over five hundred books have been written about the life and career of George Armstrong Custer. Views of Custer have changed over succeeding generations. Custer has been portrayed as a callous egotist, a bungling egomaniac, a genocidal war criminal, and the puppet of faceless forces. For almost one hundred and fifty years, Custer has been a Rorschach test of American social and personal values. Whatever else George Armstrong Custer may or may not have been, even in the twenty-first century, he remains the great lightning rod of American history. This book presents portraits of Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn as they have appeared in print over successive decades and in the process demonstrates the evolution of American values and priorities.