Got up this morning and took another crack at another crack of dawn painting:
I am attracted to the early riser theme because my father was such a stickler for hitting the road before the crack of dawn. My son inherited this trait as well and we often laugh at how much the rest of the family (i.e. our wives) hate it. We both love the peacefulness of that time before the violence of the day.
My partner, Ken Amorosano, filmed Bob telling me the story about how he interviewed the last trooper alive who fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Charlie Windolph. This was in 1947 when the old soldier was 97 years old. Utley graciously lent me his copy of Windolph's book, "I Fought With Custer," and last night, I started reading his first person account of being trapped on Reno Hill during the battle. Here's a little taste:
"I suppose it was early in the afternoon when the firing seemed to quiet down. Now and again bullets would come tearing in, but gradually they became fewer and fewer. Then below across the Little Horn heavy smoke began drifting southward. Pretty soon it became clear that the Indians were firing the grass. That seemed odd, unless they were getting ready to leave.
"The gunfire had almost ceased and some of us left our trenches and stood in little groups on the brow of the hill. Then something happened that I'll never forget, if I live to be a hundred [he almost did!]. The heavy smoke seemed to lift for a few moments, and there in the valley below we caught glimpses of thousands of Indians on foot and horseback, with their pony herds and travois, dogs and pack animals, and all the trappings of a great camp, slowly moving southward. It was like some Biblical exodus; the Israelites moving into Egypt; a mighty tribe on the march.
"We thought at first that it must be some trick: that the Indians were only removing their families from danger and that the warriors would soon return and try to overwhelm us. Patiently we waited in our little trenches. The long June afternoon dragged on. The firing had all but ceased. The smoke in the valley had blown away, and the last Indian had gone.
"While guards kept their posts, the rest of the men led such horses as were not killed down the steep draw to the river. It was the first drink they had had since early afternoon the day before. Gently we buried our dead in the shallow trenches we had dug for the living.
"Then Reno ordered the whole camp to move as close to the river as possible. We would get as far away as we could from the terrible stench.
"There was plenty of water now for the wounded. And towards evening the company cooks made us the best meal they could. At least we had hot coffee and plenty of bacon and soaked hardtack. It was our first meal in thirty-six hours.
"Then night came down. We were weary, but while those on guard were awake and alert, the rest of the command slept. But it was an uneasy sleep.
"We still had no word from Custer. We began to suspicion that some terrible fate might have overtaken him. What it was we could only guess."
I am developing this as a Classic Gunfight to run adjacent to the Utley article and I'm planning on a couple scenes I want to illustrate. Charlie was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day.
"The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest."
—Old Vaquero Saying