Historical Fiction Western Fantasy

With a snappy salute, Colonel G.A. Custer embarked with the famous Seventh Cavalry on what may have been the most fool-hardy mission in the western theater of the U.S. Army. They planned to march bald-faced into what, although they didn't know it, was the largest gathering of native Americans since the French-and-Indian War a century before.

His commander, General Matthew Terry, cautioned Custer to rest his men as often as possible. Custer was well-known for daring escapades, but Terry, understandably nervous, tried to impress on the brash subordinate that pursuing the natives was less important than making sure his men were ready for battle.

Terry was aware of the distance between Fort Abraham Lincoln on the Missouri River in Dakota Territory and the valleys surrounding the Rosebud River in southern Montana and knew it would exhaust Custer's cavalry troops and horses. Still, the newly annexed Black Hills in western Dakota were important to westward expansion and the pugnacious Indians were in the way.

Custer, seeking nomination as the 1876 Democratic presidential candidate, brought a New York Herald reporter with him. Knowing if he waited an extra day for rest, there would be no time to telegraph a story to the convention about having pulled off a major coup, Custer ignored Terry's orders and marched through the night. He knew the other leading candidate, Samuel Tilden, wouldn't be able to fight the juggernaut a Custer field victory would spawn.

When the Seventh arrived at the chosen assembling location, the army's Indian scouts reported there was a huge gathering of many Sioux tribes all up and down the valley below the Little Big Horn River. According to the scouts, Crazy Horse’s warriors were unprepared to fight. Custer took that as a good sign and ordered his men to prepare.

To start the action that dawn, Lieutenant Marcus Reno was sent with two companies to skirt around the Indian camp and attack from the northwest. Custer ordered Captain Frederick Benteen to take one company, move the supply wagons to the east, then circle in and rejoin.

That left Custer with four companies to conduct his main thrust into the native encampment. Just as he had done at Washita eight years before when he killed Chief Black Kettle, Custer counted on the element of surprise. That way he could wipe out Crazy Horse and the entire native camp before the warriors had time to respond.

When the cavalry topped the rise overlooking the huge camp, the vista was mind-numbing. Instead of teepees, Custer saw an endless field of round silver huts. They stood on three metal legs and had what appeared to be stumpy wings. Instead of horses, he saw corrals of large lizards. Custer and his second-in-command, Major Miles Keogh, were baffled. So were the Indian scouts. This was not what they'd seen, they insisted.

Custer had no idea what to do next. This was totally outside of his Indian-fighting experience. It was far beyond anything he'd seen in the Civil War, even with its iron-clad warships, rail-mounted mortars, and other impressive technologies. It was something his West Point training never anticipated. He briefly considered retreating until he and Keogh could sort things out.

But this was G.A. Custer after all, a fighter not known for holding his patience. There was a settlement in front of him and his orders, no matter how loosely he construed them, were to force those people southward where General George Crook waited for them. Or simply eradicate them, as he’d done at Washita, to give the Black Hills pioneers peace of mind.

Custer sent Keogh and one company to the northeast to protect his flank and then took his remaining three companies over the rise to charge at the Indians from the north. With his cavalry, plus his command staff, the New York Herald reporter, his brother Tom, and the Indian scouts, his attack strength was 268.

But when they reached their targeted starting position, it was already occupied. Arrayed before them were hundreds of alien creatures about the size of humans, dressed in unusual silver clothing and wearing helmets that defied comprehension. The aliens were mounted on the large lizards Custer observed earlier. They carried weapons he had never seen.

To the southeast, there was another rise overlooking the Little Big Horn River, across the river from the grove of trees to which the exhausted Reno had retreated. Custer ordered the men of the Seventh Cavalry up the rise with their rifles ready. Tired or not, these were seasoned troops who could shoot and ride their horses at the same time.

Anticipating this move, the aliens took a new position just out of Custer's sight, a perfect cover for a perfectly executed defense. Custer never had a chance. The enigmatic weapons emitted long whips of pure energy, effectively tasering Custer's men with high voltage. Within minutes, 268 of the United States' best cavalry and the civilians lay dead on the hill.

Keogh, at the same time, had trouble of his own. He ran into another contingent of aliens. He was learning, although he took the knowledge to his grave, that the large lizards were every bit as fast as his horses.

He ordered his men to dismount and form a circle to protect each other. That didn't work and his men broke for cover in the thick bushes of what is known as the Deep Ravine. Above the frightened soldiers, the aliens were able to pick them off in ones and twos.

When Benteen arrived, the battlefield was filled with the bodies of dead soldiers. Most had large holes burned in their chests. Others lost limbs and even heads in some kind of firefight. There was nothing he could do but bury them.

The aliens had departed but Reno and Benteen found plenty that showed a massive encampment. The entire Little Big Horn valley was littered with evidence of inhabitation. The two commanders assembled their troops and rode back to Fort Abraham Lincoln to report the disastrous fight.

To the south, Crook was as baffled as Benteen and Reno. If the Indians had retreated in his direction, he never spotted them. All he and his men saw were thousands of what looked like silver fireflies zipping overhead. He went back to Fort Phil Kearney and sent his report to General Terry.

The graves were located in due order by troops sent to investigate. They found no sign of the aliens, the lizards, or the high-voltage tasers. Only one horse remained standing and he, of course, couldn't tell them what he saw. The U.S. Army played “Taps” over the graves, shipped the soldiers' belongings to their loved ones, and called the battle a complete failure.

It's clear the bulk of the Seventh Cavalry time-shift into a dimension that so closely mimicked our own the outcome of General Terry's Rosebud military campaign was the same. It made no difference the enemies were "little green men" instead of war-painted Sioux. Custer still died with his boots on, taking the implausible story with him.

Ultimately, the loss at the Little Big Horn was blamed on Crazy Horse, although he vehemently denied ever having seen Custer in the valley, much less engaged in a battle. His Oglala and Lakota people were tracked down, captured, and confined to a reservation near Fort Robinson, Nebraska.

Modern-day archeologists spent years collecting all the spent shell casings fired by Custer's troops. Yet no matter how many times they swung metal detectors across the breadth of the battlefield, not a single Sioux cartridge was discovered. They were never able to account for the burned streaks all over the landscape and almost 150 years later even those have faded away leaving a hillside with neat rows of white crosses.

June 24, 2023 18:07

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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