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Seventh Cavalry's 'glorious' history

Their first massacre was in 1868

By Mahtowin

Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the big business media has made much of the spearhead role of the Seventh Cavalry. "Rich in glory and agony," read the New York Times' headline about its history.

The "agony" refers to the 1876 defeat of the Seventh Cavalry and its commander, Col. George Armstrong Custer, at Little Big Horn by combined Lakota and Cheyenne forces.

Many people know about this. But few know the rest of the "glorious" history and what preceded the battle at Little Big Horn.

Commissioned by Congress in 1866, the Seventh Cavalry is one of the oldest continuously serving regiments in the U.S. It was initially given the task of quelling Native uprisings and ensuring that pioneers were safe in the Midwestern states.

On Nov. 27, 1868, Custer led the regiment in a pre-dawn raid on a peaceful Cheyenne encampment on the Washita River in Oklahoma. It resulted in the massacre of hundreds of women, children and men. Cheyenne leader Black Kettle had already seen many of his people massacred in 1864 at Sand Creek. He had brought the survivors to Washita.

When Black Kettle once again saw his people slaughtered, he and his wife rode out, trying to meet Custer. They carried a white flag, hoping to stop the attack, but were shot on sight.

In the early 1870s, the Seventh Cavalry escorted surveyors, prospectors and others into the Black Hills to steal gold and land from the Lakota people.

It was a fine day, indeed, when Custer and many of his soldiers met their death at Little Big Horn in 1876.

Unfortunately, this was not the end of the Seventh Cavalry.

Wounded Knee massacre

In late December 1890, shortly after the murder of Sitting Bull, some Minneconjou and Hunkpapa Lakota left their reservations and headed toward the Badlands.

On Dec. 28, in the village of Wounded Knee at Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dako ta, the Seventh Cavalry arrested a group of Lakota led by Big Foot of the Hunkpapa Lakota. After disarming the Native people, the cavalry began the Wounded Knee massacre, raining fragmentation shells into the village at a combined rate of 200 or more rounds a minute. The 500 well-armed cavalry troops carried out the slaughter methodically.

Unarmed women, children and men were mercilessly massacred. A few ran as far as three miles only to be chased and put to death. Frozen bodies were strewn across the snow-covered land. Many were unceremoniously dumped into a mass grave by the cavalry.

At least 300 Lakota were massacred that day. Many said this was the "revenge" of the Seventh Cavalry for its defeat at Little Big Horn.

Twenty Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to these troops for this "battle."

The Seventh Cavalry was exonerated for its conduct. Secretary of War Redfield Proctor said, "[I]t was impossible to distinguish buck from squaw. ... The bucks fired from among the squaws and children in their retreat. ... The Indians themselves were entirely responsible for this unfortunate phase of the affair."

Army Gen. Charles Brewster Schofield, in his report regarding the conduct of the soldiers, said: "The evidence shows that great care was taken by the officers and enlisted men to avoid unnecessary killing of Indian women and children in the affair at Wounded Knee, and shows that the conduct of the Seventh U.S. Cavalry under very trying circumstances was characterized by excellent discipline and in many cases by great forbearance."

This kind of lie-filled public relations disinformation sounds just like what is now coming out of the Pentagon to cover up the U.S. military's killing of Iraqi civilians.

That was not the end of the "glorious" history of the Seventh Cavalry, however.

In 1950, the regiment slaughtered hundreds of defenseless civilians near the village of Nogun-ri, South Korea, a massacre covered up for many years.

During the Vietnam War in the 1960s, these latter-day cowboys caused many more civilian deaths.

Perhaps this "glorious" history of slaughtering civilians in wars of imperialist conquest makes the Seventh Cavalry ideally suited for a leading role in Iraq.

As if this history were not odious enough, subdivisions of the Seventh Cavalry have vilely appropriated the names of Native warriors and nations, using appellations such as "Crazy Horse" and "Apache."

The Department of Defense routinely scavenges through Native heritage to give names to its tools of death and destruction. Assault helicopters have names like the "Apache," "Iroquois," "Cayuse," "Black Hawk" and "Kiowa." There is the "Tomahawk" cruise missile.

Naming these weapons of destruction and intimidation after Native warriors and nations is an insult.

Crazy Horse (Tashunke Witko, 1849-1877) was a great Lakota visionary and warrior who was among those who defeated Custer at Little Big Horn. Black Hawk (Makataimeshekiakiak, 1767-1838) was a great Sauk war chief from what is now Illinois. His eloquence and dignity, as well as his courage, were well known.

Why does the U.S. military use the names of Native people and nations? They say it is to give weapons names that are frightening or intimidating.

In that case, says Moonanum James, a Wampanoag Vietnam-era veteran, "They should name their tools of war after Bush, Cheney and their cohorts."

Reprinted from the April 17, 2003, issue of Workers World newspaper
This article is copyrighted under a Creative Commons License.
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