Those that Lived It_Scalp Dance

A journalist for the Marysville, Kansas, Enterprise wrote this on August 17, 1867:

Go…and point a houseless, impoverished man to the smoking embers of his dwelling, the work of savage hands, where but yesterday he had stock, grain and plenty, after years of hardships and say to him, “the triumph of humanitarian principles.” Kneel beside the dying victims on the plains, scalped and disemboweled and to his ear whisper—”peace!” Clasp a maniac sister in your arms upon whose body sixty savage monsters have glutted their passions, restore her purity and call reason to its throne again with words of “peace!” Could the arrow and tomahawk but reach a few of the “peace” men in our national councils, their blood would color this Indian question with a hue that even Congressmen would understand. (Scalp Dance-Indian Warfare on the High Plains, 1865-1879 by Thomas Goodrich)

In September of 2018 my wife and I traveled to South Dakota to visit the Bad Lands and other sites in the state. We stopped in Chamberlain, South Dakota to visit a Catholic School that my dad had supported. The school is St. Joseph’s Indian School. The Native Americans that attend the school are from the various Sioux (Lakota) bands that are present in South Dakota.

The school features an excellent facility for the students as well as a Sioux Museum of high quality. As you tour the museum which is laid out in a circle and come to the end you find yourself in a large display that chronicles The Wounded Knee Massacre.

On December 29th, 1890 the US Seventh Cavalry (the same regiment nearly wiped out at The Little Big Horn in 1976 by the Sioux and Cheyenne) surrounded a band of Sioux with cavalrymen, artillery and Hotchkiss machine guns to force them to surrender and turn in their weapons. The Sioux had fled the reservation after Sitting Bull was murdered in the wake of the Ghost Dance (although Sitting Bull had no part in the Ghost Dance). The white authorities feared both the Ghost Dance and Sitting Bull. 

US cavalry on the High Plains

Reportedly, as the army tried to seize the Sioux weapons one of the Sioux who was deaf resisted. A shot was fired and to this day no one knows for sure by whom and the “battle” was on. When it was over 150+ Sioux were dead, cut down by the army’s vastly superior firepower. More than half of the dead Sioux were women and children. Twenty-five cavalrymen were also killed. It’s believed that most of the cavalrymen were killed by other cavalrymen in the vicious cross fire. Although called a “battle” at the time it’s now widely recognized as a massacre. The display at St. Joseph’s School is enough to bring even the most cold-hearted person to tears.

These days it is easy and I think right to view the Indians in the Indian Wars with a great deal of sympathy. Even some of the soldiers of the time who fought them viewed them with sympathy as they realized a people were losing not only their homes but their way of living as the buffalo (bison) were systematically destroyed by white hunters.

My wife and I also visited the Tatanka (Story of the Bison) Museum started by Kevin Costner off Dances with Wolves fame. We listened to a Native American Sioux tell the story of the buffalo and the way of life that was lost as the Plains Indians were forced on to reservations. The reservations  became a huge welfare system complete with rampant alcoholism and drug abuse. It was pointed out and truthfully so, that the government broke every treaty made with the Plains Indians.

That much is truth but it’s only part of the story. Other parts of the story include the Plains Indians warring among themselves and practicing the same kind of brutality on other tribes as they did on white settlers. Sadly, atrocities by all concerned were common and that accounts for the hatred expressed by the Kansas journalist quoted above.

Crazy Horse at the Little Big Horn (left). There are no known photographs of Crazy Horse and the ones that are out there are either fakes or mistakes.

Thomas Goodrich’s book, Scalp Dance-Indian Warfare on the High Plains 1865-1879 is a book written from the US Army’s and settler’s point of view. It details what is was like for cavalrymen, settlers and travelers that fought the Plains Indians, tried to settle the land and others just traveling through.

In a word, is was brutal. We look back on a clash of civilizations, one a budding super power and the other primitive in many ways. The super power has just fought and won the Civil War and is moving west. The primitive culture resists best they know how. What’s forgotten is that the person at the time only knew they lived in peril and needed the army to protect them. When the army could not the Indians and the army were blamed for the type of  incidents recorded above.

Scalp Dance is a book that does not make apologies for telling the story through the eyes of the soldiers and settlers who experienced Plains Warfare between 1865-1879. It’s filled with quotes and and an extensive index as to where the quotes come from.

An alternative title for Scalp Dance could have been Scalp Dance, High Plains Warfare in the Words of Those Who Lived it.

I needed to be reminded of that. I do sympathize with the American Indian so it’s easy to look back and judge the hatred of the journalist who wrote those words above. But I did not live through it or experience loss like some did. I enjoyed the book because I needed to be reminded I was not there and much of history is written by those who were..

My wife and I were touched by the plight of the Sioux in South Dakota. We wondered what we could do and being conservative Protestants we searched for a Protestant school among the Sioux. We found a Christian School called Windswept Academy on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation near Eagle Butte, South Dakota. We’ve made the school part of our regular giving. We cannot do anything about lingering hatreds and continued injustices but we can do something to help educate Sioux children so that they might escape the crippling reservation life they are part of.

The pictures below were taken at the Tatanka (Story of the Bison) Museum

Me at the Crazy Horse Memorial and Museum.


Note to My Blog Followers

I’ve made an effort to to combine my hobby blog with my History Stuff that Interests Me blog. Word Press makes it easy to import a blog but not actually let you list two separate blogs on the same blog site.

To do that I had to add a Category titled Last Man Club with a sub category titled Wargaming.

I’m a historical war gamer that seeks to recreate battles and skirmishes with model soldiers; sometimes called toy soldiers; sometimes called military miniatures. It all depends. I prefer model soldiers because it communicates the amount of work put into painting the models, preparing a game board, doing the research and so forth. 

It’s not child’s play although our goal is to have fun and enjoy one another’s company in a hobby that is truly connected to military history.

I recognize this is a slight departure from the general category of History and I also realize that perhaps many of you would not care to read posts on wargaming.

I simply want you to know that from time to time Last Man Club posts will turn up in your email or however you access my blog.

Thank you all for following my blog.

American Civil War Confederate gun and crew.
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I hope it’s Eye Candy #1

I’m frustrated with Google+ which is going away anyway but also frustrated with Blogger. I haven’t changed anything yet I cannot post my blog to Google+ in the usual way and the truth is I can’t post it at all since the screen goes white and just hangs there. As a result I have to copy the address of my latest blog and then paste to my Google+ communities (which have been loads of fun).

To make matters worse all of sudden I can’t respond to the kind comments people chose to leave on my blog. Hit reply and it looks like it will work but does not. As I said, I’ve changed nothing and not being a techie I’m finding Google+ and Blogger to be rather unfriendly. I’m seriously considering migrating to WordPress where I have two other blogs and to FB which has a number of gaming communities and a simple copy the dares and paste method to post a blog or pictures.

In the meantime I have games stacking up and reports to write and because of the Google problems have not bothered. Yet, I have some pictures to share but have forgotten much of the action attached to the pictures.

This group was taken for my DBA-BR game. It features an early Carthaginian Army versus a Syracuse type Greek Army. It was a lot of fun and the Carthaginians lost by a wide margin.

The Greeks are from my friend Mike S. As you can see they are superbly painted.


Remembering one of 10 million, 100 hundred years later

Great human interest story here.

The Cotton Boll Conspiracy

One hundred years ago today Capt. Theodore Dubose Ravenel Jr. was killed in fighting on the Western Front. Sadly, he died just one day before the end of the Great War.

Even sadder, given the confusion of war, his family did not find out for some time afterward, so they initially believed he had survived the terrible conflict that claimed 10 million lives.

Ravenel was from a rural community in Sumter County, S.C. He was described as a “brave soldier” and it was noted that he “was highly esteemed by a wide circle of friends.”

That he was brave is indicated by the fact that he was killed on final full day of the war. With German allies Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire already having surrendered, rumors were rampant by early November 1918 that an armistice was imminent. Many soldiers on both sides were understandably content to do their best…

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The Destruction of Pasha Hicks

Some weeks ago I posted teaser for an upcoming game. The post featured my The Men Who Would  Be Kings (TMWWBK) Egyptian Army. We use approximately a double list from the rules for our colonial games and I have a number of house rules that provide flavor.

We finally got around to doing the game after numerous cancellations. My friend Jim brought over his excellent collection of Mahdists and we were ready to go.

I was the game master as well as one of the Egyptian commanders.  My command would be all the mounted Egyptians while my friend Mike commanded the infantry and artillery. Mike and I played the part of Hicks and his staff of European officers. Mike was not all that keen on our “walk down the Nile” and I can’t say I’d blame him given the numerous handicaps I had assigned to the Egyptian force. (They were not rated nearly as effective as they are in the TMWWBK lists.)

My friend Jim and my son Justin commanded the forces of the Mahdi with each of them having a Rub (pronounced Roob) each. The handicaps assigned to the Mahdists were variable leadership skills as the tactical level. (They had a number of units that turned out to be poorly led.) On a higher level the Mahdists only had two Rubs present at the start of the game while the other two had to be diced for. Since the remaining two were supposed to be deployed to the side of traveling Egyptian square the idea was to not make it too easy for all the Rubs to attack at once.

The Egyptian battle plan recognized that we had a little time so we elected to try and break through the Rub to our front before the other Rubs could effectively surround us.

In addition to having sub-standard firing factors the terrain hindered the Egyptian line of sight. Historically the Mahdists were able to get very close to the Egyptians. I reflected this advantage by making all the terrain of the type where it was difficult to sight the stealthy Mahdists.

Never-the-less, Mike and I thought we had a chance to bull our way through.

The pictures below are not in any particular order because it is hard to be a game master and take pictures and then get them in sequence with appropriate comments.

This pic gives a good view of the Egyptians trying to deploy to their front.The camel troops were supposed to outflank the Rub to their flank while the Bashi Bszouks (center of the picture) were to gain the other flank. Sadly, they failed to move in a timely manner and were destined to be destroyed by camel mounted Hadendowa. The two Krupp cannon were a mixed bag when firing. I made the rule where they had to dice to fire and half the time they failed (considered ineffective actually). When they did get to fire it was effective.
Close up of one of the flanking Rubs. Two of the three units are the nasty Beja Hadendowa.
Egyptian camelry, infantry and artillery approach the oasis held by the Black Flag Rub (pronounced Roob)
The Green Flag Roob advances!
Egyptian forces try to form a square. Pasha Hicks and his staff try to direct a defense but it does not look good.
Pinned Egyptian camelry is about to be charged by Arab camelry and die valiantly!
The empty space represents the space where Egyptian units perished.
The Blue Flag Rub comes in on the other flank. There is no way out!
The Black Flag Rub counter attacks against the rapidly crumbling Egyptian lines.
This will not go well for the fellahin!
It won’t be long to complete the massacre.
Egyptian Gendarme lancers at the start of the game looking sharp but that won’t save them.
Fellahin at the ready supported by the Khedive’s Cuirassiers.
Tough Sudanese!
One of the Krupp breechloaders that would prove mostly ineffective.
Camel troops are usually mounted infantry in the rules.
A smoothbore artillery piece as an anchor.
Bashi Bazouks, bandits really. Probably just burned down a village.
Hicks and staff ready to die to a man and they would.
Khedive’s Cuirassiers 
The Square
The Square
Nice close up of the Egyptian camel corps.
Fellahin close up
Sudanese close up
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My DBA Trebbia

Doing an ancient battle that featured an ambush is no easy task if you want the ambushed to have a fighting chance of victory.

Historically, Hannibal pulled off an ambush of a Roman army near the River Trebbia in 218 BC. The Battle of Trebia was a resounding defeat for the Romans with only 10,000 of their 40,000 men surviving to fight another day.

Hannibal managed to coax the Romans into crossing the icy Trebbia to make a frontal assault on his deployed Carthaginian army. At the same time Hannibal managed to get his brother Mago concealed behind the Roman juggernaut and attack them from the rear just at the right moment.

The Roman’s fell into a carefully planned trap.

To try and reproduce the battle with my version of DBA I used the map below from Command and Colors Ancients (CCA).

I convert the board game counters into the corresponding elements in DBA and come up with an Order of Battle. I match the deployment on the elements to the map and set out victory conditions that give, in this case, the ambushed Romans a fighting chance.

The Order of Battle is given below the map I copied from the CCA website (lots of free scenarios for ancients there).

I took pictures of the game but they are not in order and since the game was a month ago I’ve lost the blow by blow which ended up in a Roman defeat. They did have a chance.

I will try to caption the pictures for the interested reader.

2 Cv
4 Sp
2 Ax
2 El
3 Ps
Ambush force
1 Cv
2 Wb
3 Bds
1 Sp
4 Ax
2 Wb
2 Cv
3 Ps
I tried to capture the entire battle line except for the ambush force. The Carthaginians are on the left side of the picture. The double ranked spearmen are in phalanx and represent Hannibal’s Libyans. There is Iberian cavalry on the Carthaginian right and Numidian’s on the left with each flank having an elephant to terrorize the Romans. The Romans are on the right of the pictures and have just crossed the river. The velites are out front challenging the Balearic slingers and other light infantry. Triarii are supporting the hastatus and princeps and Roman\Italian cavalry are on each flank.
This picture flips everything around for a better look. Roman cavalry on the left of the picture have turned to face the emerging ambush force while the Numidian’s are pressing the attack from the other direction! Adjacent to the Roman cavalry is an element of friendly Gauls who are at the moment wishing they were on the other side!
View from the Carthaginian side of the field. The Carthaginian phalanx is holding back while the flanks try to close and the ambush develops. Celt cavalry and a couple Wb elements are engaging the Romans causing some elements to try and turn to meet the threat. The Triarii who were in reserve suddenly find themselves in the thick of it with the Celts from the ambush.
The Roman right is collapsing between the Numidian’s and the ambush force. The small white dice represent recoils. In my DBA version elements are allowed “X” number of recoils before they are destroyed. This is determined by their morale status. The other recoil rules as per DBA 2.2 still apply and my rule simply prevents gridlock.
The Carthaginian right. The cavalry element on the flank of the elephant is Iberian and has just destroyed a Roman element
This picture gives a good idea of what the ambush force is accomplishing. Celts have pinned down the Triarii long enough as the other Celt elements help collapse the Roman right. It is hard to fight in two directions at the same time. Oh, that wily Hannibal.
Libyan and Iberian infantry close in on the Roman center. The encirclement is developing-note the Numidian cavalry coming in on the Roman flank.
The Roman left held out pretty well keeping the Carthaginians at bay but in the end it was to no avail.
Iberians, Celts, an elephant and Numidian’s all victorious on the Roman right and reorganizing for the final kill.
The Roman center being picked apart from the front and flank.
The Roman left still holding out but it doesn’t look good.
Even the Triarii have been flanked!
The Roman center again. It won’t be long now.
Boom! The end.

The game was a great time. It won’t be easy to take on Hannibal the Great. More to come in my Second Punic War series.


A Myth Concerning Custer and The Little Big Horn

As a kid I was enthralled by a movie titled Winchester 73. Apparently, my father was too because later in life he began to collect Winchesters including two Model 73s that are worth some money today.

(Model 73 refers to the year 1873 and the model’s first year of production.)


Trailer for Winchester 73


In the movie starring Jimmy Stewart there is a scene in which Rock Hudson (as the Indian Young  Bull) confronts a gun trader by demanding the kind of guns that Crazy Horse used to wipe out Custer. The trader is surprised that Young Bull knows of Custer and the Battle of the Little Big Horn but he doesn’t have any Winchesters other than the 1 in a 1000 Model 73 that he himself owns (and Young Bull gets).


Rock Hudson as Young Bull with the 1 in a 1000 Winchester 73’s

Scene where Young Bull knows about Custer and gets the Winchester

A bit later in the movie the same Indians under Young Bull are about to charge some cavalry. Stewart and his companion discuss the situation with a cavalry sergeant and Stewart remarks that the Sioux knew all about the army’s single shot carbine (Springfield Model 73) while the Indians all had repeaters including Winchesters.

Therefore the reason Custer lost is because the Indians had Winchesters and the army only single shot carbines. In the movie Stewart and his pal both have Model 73 Winchesters and the Indian charge is easily broken by their rapid fire, thus making the point.

It is complete and utter nonsense and a myth that the Indians all had repeating rifles. Custer lost because he didn’t bother with a decent reconnaissance, divided his command in the face of superior numbers and because he was reckless and impulsive by nature.

Yet, the myth persists to this day despite that as early as 1959 Guns and Ammo Magazine (reprinted in True West, Feb., 1961) did research that proves that on the balance Custer’s force was better armed with their Model 73 Springfield  breech-loading carbines and Model 73 Colt Revolvers than the Indians who triumphed at the Little Big Horn (Battle of the Greasy Grass to the Lakota).

The myth that the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors were armed with repeaters (Winchesters in particular) probably started with the US Army’s Court of Inquiry which questioned Major Reno who proposed the Indians were universally equipped with Winchesters. Here’s the questions and answers Reno gave to the court as reported in the True West article Indian Guns Against Custer.

Reno: The Indians had Winchester rifles and the column made a large target for them and they were pumping bullets into it.

Question: The Indians, as far as you observed were armed with Winchester rifles?

Reno: Yes, sir.

Question: Do you know they had any other arms?

Reno: No, sir.

Reno’s statements were substantiated by Lt’s Varnum and De Rudio officers under Reno’s command.

But why would Reno and his officers lie? (I don’t believe it is possible that any experienced frontier officer would not know that repeating rifles were rare among the tribes.)

The answer to the question is not complicated. Reno’s Battalion of the 7th Cavalry was supposed to help Custer surround the Lakota\Cheyenne encampment. Initially, they charged the edge of the first encampment but were quickly dissuaded by the number of warriors that emerged to defend it.

Reno ordered his battalion halt, dismount and form a skirmish line to hold back the numerous warriors attacking them. For a time the dismounted cavalrymen held back the warriors but things suddenly changed.

At one point in the battle the Arikara Indian scout (Bloody Knife) for Custer who was attached to Reno that day took a bullet to the head and his brains were splattered all over Reno. It is reported that Reno panicked and ordered a retreat to a slight ridge and tree line to make a stand. Some of his soldiers heard the order while a great many did not and as many as 40 were killed in a pell mell retreat. Eyewitnesses would claim that Reno was drunk as a skunk during the debacle.

Shortly after the rout, the soldiers gained a reprieve as most of the warriors went after Custer’s column and as we know wiped it out to a man. Reno’s survivors on the ridge were reinforced by Benteen’s battalion and between the two battalions they held on to the tree line until Terry’s column relieved them and discovered the extent of the disaster.

Reno himself would become a scape goat for Custer’s recklessness,  an issue still argued about to this day. Whatever one thinks about that it is clear that Reno was looking for a way out of what happened to his command by claiming the Indians were better armed than his troopers. In fact Reno actually said he charged the tree line rather than admit to the panicked rout. Reno was not very credible.

So what’s the probable truth about what the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors were armed with?

The article in True West assumes 2,000 warriors (some sources go as high as 4,000) were present at the Little Big Horn. Of these, no more than 40-50 Winchester Model 66s (nicked named the Yellow Boy because the receivers were brass) were present and most in the hands of chiefs and notable warriors. In addition to the Winchesters a few Henry’s would have been present (cartridge casings found at the Little Big Horn confirm this), a few Spencers ( a Civil War 7 shot repeater) and quite a few single shot trade muskets, some single shot rifled percussion models and some smoothbore as well as pistols of various types.


Cover of True West, Feb., 1961. A Buffalo (Bison) hunter would never attempt to bring down a Bison on horseback. The standard method was to stand off down wind discounted and bring them down at long range with a powerful rifle like a big bore Sharps. The buffalo hunters did more to confine the Indians to reservations than the army ever did since they nearly wiped out the 30 million Bison that once roamed the Great Plains.

The fact is repeater ammunition would be hard to come by because the Indians could not manufacture the rounds. This was not the case with the muskets since they could mold and manufacture balls and get powder easily enough.

The vast majority of the Indians (50% or more) would be armed with nothing more than bow and arrows, lances or war clubs and not have any firearms at all!

Norman B. Wiltsey is the author of the True West article that was reprinted from Guns and Ammo. Wiltsey states that in 1939 he interviewed an old Ogala Sioux named Charging Bear who fought at the Little Big Horn and asked him whether or not the Indians were armed with Winchesters.

Charging Bear told Wiltsey that is was a big lie and that 2\3 of the Indians at the Little Big Horn had only bows and arrows and war clubs. He further stated that he himself did not have a firearm until he picked up a carbine from a soldier he killed with his bow.


Cover page of the article showing the Model 66 Winchester some of the Indians had at the Little Big Horn. Far more common was the trade musket showed above, a single shot muzzle loader far inferior to the soldier’s Model 73 breech-loading Springfield carbine.

I’ve always enjoyed Westerns like Winchester 73 but as an amateur historian I’ve become quite picky when it comes to details. Some say I’m no fun to watch a movie that has history in it because I’m always correcting it. Oh well.