Summer after summer, something draws me to reading about the Battle of the Little Bighorn. This year I am reading simultaneously about the battle of Mar-a-Lago.
I was born in August 1949, so I don’t think it’s the just the stars that draw me to the Custer defeat and the fleeting Native victory of June 1876. It might be the summer heat but mostly I think it’s the mysteries. Same with Mar-a-Lago.
Last summer I began realizing that the story of Custer’s defeat at Little Bighorn is incidental to the bigger story of why 8,000 Native Americans were encamped in that river valley in 1876. But since we lack heavenly CCTV, I still have many questions about the battle and its circumstances. I’m currently reading about reporting and communications issues — Shooting Arrows and Slinging Mud — that contribute to so many problems with the history. Along the way, whether they’re in Montana or Florida, a couple of main characters get a lot attention.
Purely on the technical side of things, I flash back to the pre-cell-phone days of the Santa Fe penitentiary riot in February 1980, when I and many other reporters calling in stories to editors had to grapple, at least initially, with a single pay phone at a convenience store about a mile up the road from the prison.
In the way of many scouts on both sides at the Little Bighorn, I saw this Mar-a-Lago episode coming. I have kept up with the blow-by-blow in the newspapers but I, as I suppose many of us do, still have big questions about what was going on with all those top-secret documents scattered around that sprawling Florida spread.
I doubt that any single fact in the summer of 1876 or the summer of 2022, including the breadbox spilled from a 7th Cavalry pack train and found by Indians, is definitive about the course of history. Conflicting accounts of the would-be giveaway breadbox have it being found by Natives either friendly or unfriendly to the U.S. forces. Common threads between the two summers are thin and quickly run apart but both are so full of mystery. I have no need of spy novels this summer because of my subscription to the New York Times.
I probably won’t make much more of them, though events of the 1876 and 2022 sometimes still meet in my mapless brain. Maybe it’s just that both include big events in American history. And it did occur to me this morning that central figures in both summer battles had expansive views of themselves and visions of presidential runs in their heads.
And I’m going to keep reading in what might be another last stand summer.