Friday, March 31, 2023

Marcus Reno’s Account of His Charge at the Little Bighorn


From the New York Herald August 8, 1876

After crossing the ford I sent word to Custer that the Indians were in front and very strong, but charged on down, supposing that I was being followed by him. As I neared the village, I saw Indians passing from the hill behind my left flank. I knew no support could be coming, so I dismounted and took possession of a point of woods about a half mile upstream from the village, sheltered my horses and advanced to the attack, reaching within 200 yards of the village. The Indians then came out in overwhelming numbers, and it was plain to me that the salvation of my command depended on reaching a defensive position, which was accomplished by charging through the Indians to the bluffs, where I was joined by the other companies commanded by Colonel Benteen and Captain McDougall. The ford we crossed in getting to the bluff was not the same we had passed in going to attack the village. It was in front of the bluff, and it was partially by accident that we found it. When I went into action I had only 112 men and officers of the Seventh with me and some twenty-five scouts. If I had not made the charge for the bluffs my command would undoubtedly have been annihilated as Custer's was. The great mistake in the beginning was that we underestimated the Indian strength. The lowest computation puts the Indian strength at about 2,500, and some think there were 5,000 warriors present.

Custer's Last Stand: Reno's Charge ( Battle of the Little Bighorn) - YouTube

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Charles Byrne: The Irish Giant

Charles Byrne, also known as "The Irish Giant," was born in 1761 in County Londonderry, Ireland. He was a man of extraordinary height, reaching a height of over 7 feet 7 inches, making him one of the tallest men in history. Byrne's height made him a curiosity during his lifetime, and his body became the subject of scientific study and public fascination after his death.

Byrne's early life is shrouded in mystery, but he is believed to have grown up in rural Ireland. He first came to public attention in the 1780s, when he began exhibiting himself as a curiosity in London's streets and taverns. Byrne quickly became a sensation, attracting large crowds of people who were eager to see the "tallest man in the world." He also gained the attention of several prominent figures, including King George III and the artist Joshua Reynolds.

Despite his fame, Byrne's life was not an easy one. He struggled to make a living as a curiosity, and his height made him the subject of ridicule and discrimination. Byrne was also plagued by health problems, including respiratory issues and joint pain, which were likely caused by his size.

In 1783, Byrne was introduced to John Hunter, a prominent surgeon and anatomist who was fascinated by the human body. Hunter convinced Byrne to allow him to study his body after his death, promising to bury him at sea to prevent his remains from being used for scientific research. Byrne agreed to the arrangement, and Hunter paid him a significant sum of money in exchange.

In 1783, Byrne died suddenly at the age of 22, likely from complications related to his size. Hunter quickly seized the opportunity to study Byrne's body and he had it embalmed and put on display in his anatomy museum in London. Byrne's body remained on display for several decades, and it became one of the most famous attractions in London.

Despite Hunter's promise to bury Byrne at sea, his body was eventually acquired by the Royal College of Surgeons of England, where it remained on display until January 11, 2023, when it was announced that Byrne’s skeleton was being retired from public display.


Paititi (The Treasure of the Lost City)

Monday, March 27, 2023

Is Custer’s Battlefield Haunted?


Over the years, the Little Bighorn Battlefield has become the subject of numerous supernatural stories and legends. Visitors to the site have reported experiencing a range of strange phenomena, including ghostly apparitions, disembodied voices, and unexplained sounds.

One of the most famous ghost stories associated with the Little Bighorn Battlefield is that of the "ghost rider." According to legend, a spectral figure on horseback can be seen riding through the battlefield at night. Some have speculated that the rider is the ghost of General Custer himself, while others believe it may be one of the Lakota Sioux warriors who fought in the battle.

Another well-known supernatural occurrence at the Little Bighorn Battlefield is the mysterious sound of drums. Visitors have reported hearing the sound of drums beating in the distance, even when there is no one playing them. Some have speculated that the drumming is the sound of the Lakota Sioux performing a traditional ceremony, while others believe it may be the ghostly echo of the battle itself.

Other visitors to the Little Bighorn Battlefield have reported seeing ghostly apparitions, including the figures of soldiers and Native American warriors. Some have claimed to see the ghosts of soldiers walking across the battlefield, or to feel the presence of unseen entities watching them. Others have reported hearing the sound of battle cries and gunfire, even though there is no one else around.

Despite the numerous reports of supernatural occurrences at the Little Bighorn Battlefield, skeptics remain unconvinced. Some believe that the stories are simply the result of overactive imaginations or the power of suggestion.  Whether or not the supernatural occurrences at the Little Bighorn Battlefield are real, they serve as a reminder of the power of place and the enduring legacy of history.

Friday, March 24, 2023

The Black Brigade During the American Revolution


One small elite black raiding unit of twenty four men, called the Black Brigade, became particularly terrifying for the American rebels. The Black Brigade was led by an ex-slave known as Colonel Tye (an honorary title).  In 1775 Tye ran away from his master in New Jersey and drifted south.  Reaching Virginia, he joined Lord Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment in which he fought bravely.  

After that regiment disbanded, Tye returned to New Jersey to fight for the King.  In June, 1778 he fought at the Battle of Monmouth and captured a rebel militia captain.  In July, 1779, Tye's band launched a raid on Shrewsbury.  Using his intimate knowledge of Monmouth County's swamps, rivers and inlets Tye continued to carry out a series of lightning raids, carrying away clothing, furniture, horses and cattle from the homes of prominent rebels. 

By 1780, Tye’s band had become a force to be reckoned with.  On June 9, Tye and his men executed the rebel Joseph Murray, hated by the Loyalists for his murder of Tory prisoners.  On June 12 the Black Brigade attacked the home of Barnes Smock, captured the rebel militia leader and twelve of his men, and destroyed rebel cannon.  As a result of Tye’s raids, a large number of New Jersey’s slaves fled to the British in New York seeking freedom.  As the summer of 1780 wore on, Tye continued to confront and confuse the rebels, until in September, Tye led a surprise attack on the home of Captain Josiah Huddy.  During this skirmish Tye was shot in the wrist.  The minor wound festered and became gangrenous, leading to Tye’s death.

Who Were the Slaves of the Founding Fathers?

Secrets of Early America 1607-1816

Friday, March 10, 2023

Alternate History: The Chinese-American War of 2023


A lecture given to the Institute of Modern History

Seattle, Canadian Union

March 26, 2173


Some people question the interest showered on the 150th anniversary of the Sino-American War of 2023.  Isn’t it wrong to celebrate a war?  Well, we aren’t here today to celebrate war, which is always a terrible thing, but to remember and take stock of those long-ago events that shaped the world we know today.


 The fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tibet’s supreme spiritual leader, was, at last, dead at the age of 87.  The Chinese Global Times poured scorn on Western claims that he had been murdered. “ The Dalai Lama always wore religious clothes while carrying out anti-Chinese separatist activities, spreading false information and deceiving the public,” thundered the Global Times, “If China had wanted to kill this evil man, it could have done so anytime over the last sixty years without waiting until he was 87.  The Dalai Lama was a wolf in monk's clothes, a devil with a human face.” 

 China’s claim to sovereignty over Tibet went back some six hundred years.  Enforcement of this claim over a people ethnically different from the native Han Chinese was sometimes weak, especially when China itself was submerged in internal turmoil.  From 1912 onward the Tibetans were left to their own devices while the Chinese wrestled with revolutions, competing warlords and invasion by the Japanese.  A succession of Dalai Lamas ruled as both temporal and spiritual leaders of Tibet. This abruptly ended in 1951 when the Chinese army marched in, asserting China’s claim to complete and total sovereignty over Tibet.  The fourteenth Dalai Lama fled into an exile, a hero and saint to his people, a separatist provocateur to the Chinese.

 Tens of thousands of Han Chinese settlers poured into Tibet, modernizing the country in the view of the Chinese, undermining native Tibetan culture and religion in the view of most in the West.  How what the Chinese were doing to the Tibetans differed from what the European and American did to the native populations of the North American continent only a century earlier was one of those inconvenient ironies that no liberal intellectual in the West ever wished to discuss.

 Any talk of Tibetan independence was totally unacceptable to China.  The Dalai Lama’s death would not be permitted to fan the flames of separatism.  Fifty nine arrests were made in Lhasa to combat what the Global Times called, “rumor-mongering,” and five arrests were carried out in connection with the distribution of “cultural products expressing politically separatist reactionary views which mislead the public” A senior security officer explained the official position, “A civilized and healthy environment  must be created by curbing the spread of decayed and backward ideology and culture, and by resolutely resisting ideological and cultural infiltration and sabotage activities by the Dalai clique and hostile Western forces.”

 The Chinese government may have convinced the Han Chinese colonists who were quickly coming to dominate Tibet that the death of the Dalai Lama was due to natural causes, but ethnic Tibetans believed the worst.  Word quickly spread that the saint had been murdered by the Chinese.  According to rumors on the streets, Tibetan women, trained by Chinese agents, wore poison in their hair, which contaminated the Dalai Lama as he touched the women’s hair during blessings. 

 Trouble began when three hundred young monks from Deprung Monastery, near Lhasa started a peaceful protest demanding a full investigation of the Dalai Lama’s death.  A few of the monks were immediately arrested.  The next day, monks from the Sera Monastery began a peaceful march.  Protestors holding images of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan flags marched through the streets.  More monks were arrested, some were manhandled and several were beaten by Public Security Bureau officers.  On the morning of the third day, one hundred monks from the Ramoche Monastery began to protest the arrest of the monks the day before.  Increasingly harsh in their treatment of the monks, security forces began severely beating the young protestors, which enraged Tibetan onlookers.  From then on, the situation spiraled out of control as thousands of Tibetans raged through the streets pillaging and savagely beating ethnic Han Chinese.  The rioting rapidly spread from Beijing Road, the main central thoroughfare of Lhasa, into the narrow alleyways of the old Tibetan quarter.  The throng was packed tightly in a constricted area when Chinese troops appeared and machine guns opened fire.  The Tibetans were packed together so tightly that one bullet would drive through three or four bodies.  The people ran madly this way and that.  When the fire was directed toward the center, they ran to the sides.  The fire was then directed towards the sides.  Many threw themselves upon the ground, and the fire was then directed on the ground.  The firing continued for ten minutes, and stopped only when the ammunition was exhausted.  The Chinese marched away leaving 379 dead and 1,500 wounded.  The crowd was unarmed and included many women and children. 

 So much for peaceful protest, the Tibetan mob, now armed with knives, stones, swords and an occasional gun rampaged through the narrow alleys of the Tibetan quarter. The rioters battered the shutters of shops, broke in and seized whatever they could find.  Some goods were carried away, but others were piled in the street and burned. Almost every Han business in the city was burned, looted, destroyed, or smashed into.  When protesters burned a police station, soldiers with machine guns once again fired into the crowds. Thousands of Tibetans were slaughtered in a week of bloody insurrection.  Hundreds of Han Chinese died as well, as the Tibetans sought vengeance. The next week, Lhasa was green with soldiers. Helicopter gun ships hovered over the city.  But by then, violence had spread to Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu provinces, all with Tibetan populations.  Fearful Han settlers, who had been in Tibet for years, left the country. Chinese businessmen, who would normally come in and out of Lhasa by train, now feared that Tibetans would blow up the railway line and began to fly.

 The Chinese leadership announced new Tibet-specific policies called “the Four Stabilities” to be carried out in the name of the slogan “stability overrides all” (wending yadao yiqie) in order to “keep a tight hand on the struggle against separatism.” In Lhasa itself, two armored personnel carriers were permanently stationed in front of the Jokhang temple, Tibet’s holiest shrine.  On the front of one of the vehicles big red Chinese characters proclaimed, “Stability is Happiness”. On the other a sign read, “Separatism is Disastrous.” 


 There were smiles all around at the China desk at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.  Inspired, positively inspired, the idea of planting a story that the Dalai Lama had been murdered by Tibetan women wearing poison in their hair. The idea was so incredible that it had become credible…well, at least in Tibet.  The Tibetans would rather believe that their 87 year old living God had been murdered than that he had died of natural causes. 

 Operation Blue Mountain”, the Tibet operation, was the first fruit of the Agency’s new program of asymmetrical warfare.  “When you cannot confront a powerful enemy directly,” Isaac Brown, the Director of the CIA said, “worry him where he is weak, wear him down, and sap his strength”. 

 Frankly, many at the Agency and America in general felt that it was about time for some payback.  The Agency had long suspected that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and most of those in the subsequent two decades had originated not in Afghanistan, Baghdad, or Tehran, but in Beijing. China had been arming America’s global adversaries and undermining the American economy for years.  North Korea was overflowing with Chinese arms.  Somehow, Chinese-made armor-piercing missiles fell into the hands of anti-American militants in Iraq. The Iranians purchased sophisticated Chinese cruise anti-ship missiles to be used to impede the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. China provided Iran diplomatic cover for its nuclear ambitions in exchange for oil and gas deals. China developed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) ports in Mexico. Using the economic shield of the NAFTA agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada, China avoided U.S. tariffs by shipping Chinese manufactured goods through Mexico into the United States. This reduced Chinese transportation costs to the United States by fifty percent and flooded the U.S. market with more cheap Chinese goods, further weakening the struggling U.S. dollar. American stores were stuffed with shoddy Chinese products while American manufacturing companies, once the envy of the world, lay in ruins and hundreds of thousands of American workers pounded the cold grey streets looking for jobs that would never return.

 China was too powerful and too intertwined in the American economy to attack directly, but China had internal weaknesses that the Agency could exploit.  If only the Agency could exploit China’s internal weaknesses before America’s own weaknesses brought it down.  Every year, America came closer to dissolution.  The nation had been polarized between rabid liberals and rabid conservatives in equal measure for over two decades, with only the tiniest of tiny minorities still claiming the name moderate or independent.  Americans were no longer one people.  They no longer shared a common culture, common values, or even a common language.  Americans were now just an odd conglomeration of people occupying a common geographic space fractiously squabbling over economic crumbs, contesting every piece of history, every educational curriculum, every code, tradition and belief.  Americans aligned themselves in what were called “red” and “blue” states, which in many ways still reflected the unresolved tensions of America’s civil war of the 19th century between the “blue” states and the “grey” states.  A few bold thinkers could already see the forces building for the mass re-location of populations along ideological and religious lines, the dissolution of old political bonds and the emergence of new value driven nations on the ruins of the failed Republic.  In short a new civil war.

 Isaac Brown, the Director of the CIA, was not one of those who intended to allow the Republic to fail.  Brown knew America thrived when it had an enemy to defeat.  America needed strong enemies, real or imagined.  Such had always been the case, whether it was the British, the Germans and Japanese, or the Russians.  Without a powerful external enemy that threatened their existence Americans turned on each other.  Within the Agency the belief was, “We must destroy China in order to save America…from itself.”

 Creating hostility towards China was not difficult.  America, like an aging rock star jealous of a younger and more vibrant challenger, rested on its past reputation, sneering at the latest “flavor of the month”, even while stung in its pride.  Certainly nothing had been more humiliating than the Chinese manned moon landing in 2019, the fiftieth anniversary of the first moon landing successfully accomplished by America.  How humiliating to be reminded that America had abandoned space and no longer had the will to reach for the stars. 

Wars and Invasions

Thursday, March 02, 2023

Custer’s Last Flag

     In 1895, the Detroit Institute of Arts paid $54 for a U.S. 7th Cavalry guidon.  Of the five guidons carried by Custer's troops at the “Last Stand” only one was immediately recovered, concealed under the body of a dead trooper.  That trooper was Corporal John Foley, who was trying to escape on horseback.  Foley was pursued by Indians and shot himself in the head before he was overtaken. The recovered flag later became known as the Culbertson Guidon, after the member of the burial party who recovered it, Sergeant Ferdinand Culbertson.

     A second 7th Cavalry guidon was recovered in September 1876, at the Battle of Slim Buttes near present-day Reva, South Dakota.  This flag is now displayed at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  The Culbertson Guidon was sold by Sotheby’s auction house to a private collector in 2010 for $2.2 million.

Custer's Last Stand Re-examined