General George Armstrong Custer and his men were massacred at Little
Big Horn in 1876, they may have gone to their graves with a piece
of East Texas.
In 1865, 11 years before the massacre, General Custer was assigned
to Texas as a part of the reconstruction of Texas following the
Civil War. Custer's mounted cavalry, totaling 3,000 men, left Alexandria,
Louisiana, in August in 1865. Crossing the Sabine River at Bevil's
Ferry in the northeast corner of Newton
County, the troops were headed for Austin
where Custer would become the federal military commander of a cavalry
Passing through the small Newton
County community of Survey,
Custer's men saw eleven pair of hand-knitted socks hanging on a
line to dry. Needing socks, they proceeded to take them.
We know that Custer and his men died with their boots on at Little
Big Horn, but history doesnąt tell us if they died with Newton
County's socks on.
However, thanks to some research by Wanda Bobinger, curator of the
Polk County Memorial Museum at Livingston,
we do know what Custer and his men felt about East
Texas as they passed through on their way to Austin.
A member of
Custer's staff, known as Browne, kept a journal during the march
from Alexandria to Austin.
He wrote: "We've seen no good country in Texas as yet. Pines and
deer, bugs and snakes inhabit the whole face of this place. This
country today looks as if it is uninhabited by man, and if even
God himself has abandoned it."
On August 20, eight days after entering Texas, Custer and his men
reached Swartwout Ferry on the Trinity River in Polk
County. They forded the river and camped on the west bank.
Encountering dozens of rattlesnakes on the bluff, they dubbed the
site "Camp Rattlesnake." Browne reported: "One could hardly put
their foot down without walking on a snake. We killed one with 14
rattles on his tail and more than six feet in length. We remained
in camp...and dreamed of snakes." In their saddles at 4 a.m. the
next morning, the cavalry marched 27 miles without water before
coming to "two beautiful villages of Cold
Spring and Waverly."
Browne said they were "the only towns that I have seen yet in Texas
worth mentioning after traveling some 150 miles in the state."
During the march through East
Texas, Browne apparently had an aversion to pine trees. He wrote:
"There are pines before us, pines behind us, pines on each side
of us, nothing but pines."
Browne also commented on East
Texas' heat. "Most of the men are broken out with heat as thick
as one with measles. It felt like I was being pricked with a million
pins, or being sprinkled on bare skin with hot ashes."
Browne also complained: "If you lay down in the pine woods, an army
of vermin will come in a moment to bite, scratch, sting and gnaw
you all at the same time."
Maybe Browne and the rest of Custer's men should have stayed in
Texas. Even the East
Texas vermin would have been a lot less painful than what they
encountered at the Little Big Horn.
28 - August 3, 2002 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
Published with permission
City, Texas - Named after General Custer. A ghost town today.