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.




Who was Gunther Grunau?

Grunau 1939

The above picture on the left shows Gunther Gronau at age 14 holding an American flag. The picture on the right shows Mr. Gronau in 1939. This side-by-side picture and most of the ones below appeared in the July 24th issue of Life Magazine.

The pictures were not part of a feature article that Life did but part of a letter and pictures to Life Magazine that Gunther Gronau sent in.

Note the text of the letter below.

Gronaus letter 2

After the assassination  of the Archduke Ferdinand in 1914 all of Europe erupted in war-the result of entangling alliances and rivalries. When the war ended in 1918 millions would have been killed and empires lost.

Although little known in the west the Germans and Russians clashed in German East Prussia. The Germans and French were at war on the western front and since Russia was an ally of France they invaded East Prussia forcing Germany to fight a two-front war. (Russian invasion of East Prussia)

The invasion was launched  by two massive Russian armies. To oppose them the Germans had but one understrength army plus hastily called up reserve regiments and landwehr (a kind of militia).

According to Gronau’s account he was part of the column of German marching soldiers in the picture below. That picture appeared in Life Magazine for some reason and Gronau recognized himself. He sent in the rest of the pictures below and wrote the letter to Life.

According to Life and Grunau the circled individual in the front rank is Grunau.

Germans matching E Prussia 1914

I have an interest in World War One, particularly the Eastern Front and The Battle of Tannenberg. When I spotted the picture in Life I was certain I had seen it before but I cannot locate it in an INET search.

The picture quality is not good but it seems clear enough to note the head gear on Gronau. Gronau and his comrades are not wearing the standard pickle-haube as shown below.


The German solider above was killed in Belgium in November of 1914. He is wearing the early war uniform of the German Army and his head gear is the distinctive pickle-haube. Gronau is clearly not and instead is wearing the short shako type head gear that was distinctive of Jager Regiments.

Jager’s were specialized “light infantry” and something of an elite in 1914. They were usually attached at the Infantry Corps level or to a division of cavalry. They were not numerous.

Below is a picture of a two Jagers (Jager  means hunter) with their distinctive shako head gear. The photo is from the excellent website that discusses the Jager and their history. (The Soldier’s Burden)


According to Gronau his unit was nearly annihilated and he was one of the few survivors. It’s impossible to know for sure but the 1st and 2nd Reserve Jäger Battalions were present at the German victory of Tannenberg. (German Order of Battle-Tannerberg)

Prior to the tremendous victory at Tannenberg the Germans fought at least two major engagements against the Russians where they suffered high casualties. It’s entirely possible that Gronau’s Jager unit was involved in one of the prior battles where most of his comrades were lost.

Gronau obviously survived the war and the rest of the pictures give a glimpse as to what he did during the war and after.

Germans stream recce 1914

The arrow points to Grunau

Germans in Russians home 1914

In 1914 the country of Poland did not exist. Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia all had a part of it. After the Germans won at Tannenberg they pushed the Russians out of “Russian Poland.”

bombed our E Prussian town

As noted in the letter the Russians invaded East Prussia on August 2nd, 1914 and in the process occupied a number of towns and villages. Apparently, Gronau lived in East Prussia and his town suffered a lot of damage and his wife and young son were captured but later released. The soldiers in the picture certainly appear to be Russian.

According to the letter Gronau and his family came to America in 1926 and became a successful business man. He had four sons and they apparently liked America.

Here’s a little speculation on my part. The date of the Life Magazine is July 24th, 1939. In two months Europe (Sept., 1939) would again be at war as Hitler invaded the new nation of Poland and conquered it in less than a month.

Two plus years would pass before the United States entered the war and I can’t help wondering if any of Gronau’s sons would be called on to fight against their father’s fatherland.

Ann Sheridan Life 1939

The beautiful Hollywood starlet graced the cover of the July 24th, 1939 issue of Life Magazine.




Who was Private Charles E. Teed?

I’m back with another “history stuff” blog entry that I got from Life Magazine. The issues I possess are a treasure trove of Americana (late 1930’s) through the war years when Life was fully dedicated to the war effort.

The US military drafted 3,033,361 men in 1942. In 1943 slightly more were drafted but 1942-43 were the peak years for the draft. From 1940 when the US was gearing up for the war until the end of the war in 1945 over 10,000,000 men would be drafted. Private Charles E. Teed was drafted in early 1942 and the March 16th, 1942 issue of Life Magazine did a substantial feature on Teed calling him a typical US soldier.


I have the issue and I read the article. My first thought after reading the article was whether or not Private Charles E. Teed survived the war.

Turns out he did. This is what I found out via the INET.

The Effingham County Courthouse Museum published this piece on FaceBook in 2015.

Charles E. Teed . . . . Army . . . . WWII

Charles E. Teed was born May 24, 1919 the only child of Ralph and Violet (Cramer) Teed. He attended the local schools. Charles later opened a small cafe in Effingham.

He was drafted into the Army in 1942. Shortly before he shipped overseas he won $200 shooting craps and was able to send for his fiancee Violet Kincaid and marry her before he headed to the European Theater.

Charles Teed was selected by Life magazine to be featured as the Private representing the best the Army had to offer. His journey led him from Effingham to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Casablanca, Sicily, Utah Beach, St. Lo, and finally back to Effingham after 5 years.

He was wounded twice. The first time was shrapnel in his leg, but the second time he was wounded happened outside of St. Lo when a bullet shattered his arm and lung. Sgt. Teed drug himself over to an orchard. As he looked up at the sky and clouds he thought that would be the last thing he saw. Luckily he was finally found by his platoon guide and shipped to a hospital.

Sgt. Charles E. Teed received 2 Purple Hearts, and 5 Battle Stars and rose to the rank of Sergeant. Life magazine featured him in 3 different issues including one 25 years later where Life magazine took Charles and Vi on a journey retracing his movements through his five years in the Army during WWII.

After he was discharged from the Army, Charles came back to Effingham where he and Vi raised their family. He eventually opened a TV repair shop at his home on Kentucky Street. He later worked at Crossroads Press.

Charles E. Teed died on April 3, 1985 and is buried at Oakridge Cemetery in Effingham, Illinois. Source Effingham County Courthouse Museum

When the Life Magazine issue appeared in 1942 the US had been barely at war for 4 months. Everyone knew someone who had been drafted or probably would be drafted soon. (My father turned 18 in May, 1945 and was immediately drafted.)
Friends, relatives and just about anyone else concerned about the war would probably wonder what it looked like to be drafted into the Army (the Navy and Marines drafted in WW2 as well.)  The article that accompanied the pictures was written by St. Claire McKelway. McKelway did not work for Life Magazine. Prior to the war he worked for the New Yorker Magazine and during the war served in public relations for the Army. Clearly his assignment was to give the American people a glimpse into Army life and boost morale.
Teed was 22 when the call came.  He was the only child of Ralph and Violet Teed. He was born in Effingham, IL which was a small farming town and still is. Charles’ father worked on the railroad but was killed by a train in 1939. Teed’s dad had been a hard worker and the Teed’s had the benefit of a nice house when the elder Teed was killed in the accident.
The railroad settled for a $5, 500 payout to Violet and that plus $3,000 in life insurance enabled Violet to purchase a restaurant in town. Charles became the kitchen manager and through his position he met his future wife, another gal named Violet (Cramer).
When Teed was drafted he simply went. His country needed him and that was all there was to it. Teed was typical of the millions of young men who literally dropped everything and went to their induction and training centers.
The bulk of the article deals with Teed’s basic training as an infantry soldier. No matter what else you might become in the US Army you were first an infantry rifleman.
Another thing typical about Teed is the marrying his sweetheart before he shipped out overseas. Marriages increased dramatically during the war years and I suppose some of that was driven by the possibility the soldier might not make it home. Whatever the reason it certainly gave the soldier a good reason to come home as well as that strong emotional connection to home while he was away. (Soldiers treasured letters from home and read them over and over.)
According to the article Teed wondered if he would get into an actual battle. It was something to think about because for every frontline soldier there was another eight keeping him supplied. Teed also thought he’d only be in for a year. This surprised me when I read it because I had thought men were drafted for the duration of the war but perhaps Teed thought the war would be over in another year once the US got over there-where ever over there was!
As it turns out Teed did see action, first in North Africa, then Sicily and then Normandy and beyond. He was wounded twice and made Sergeant by the time he got out of the army.
Here’s some of the pictures Life used to tell Teed’s story.

Teed is the second soldier in the foreground with his helmet at the “jaunty” angle. The caption says that Teed is the backbone of our fighting forces. Teed was trained as infantry. Infantry units took the highest proportion of casualties and by late 1944 most US battalions had shortages of trained riflemen. The infantry were the backbone. The helmets are of the WW1 pattern. They resemble the British model but are not quite the same. American and British helmets of the design look like upside down soup bowls. The American version would be replaced entirely by 1943 with a new model that lasted until the late 1980’s. (Some of the soldiers in the column are wearing “overseas” caps. I wonder if there was a helmet shortage.


It was interesting to me that Teed is cleaning a M1 Garand-a superb weapon that featured a eight round clip, a major improvement over the bolt action Springfields that many American soldiers were still using in March, 1942.


The caption reads Teed on KP (kitchen police) duty (left). Perhaps Teed is eating some of the food he had a hand in preparing (right). The American Army in WW2 was the best equipped and best supplied of all the belligerents.


Teed’s soon to be wife Violet Kincaid looks down the barrel of an obsolete 75mm artillery piece that dates back to WW1. The gun is of French design. I’m not sure the American Army used these old pieces in WW2 but many other nations did. (The army did have a 75mm artillery piece but it was an improvement over the WW1 model and did look like the piece in the picture.)


The caption identifies the soldiers as belonging to the 9th Infantry Division. As noted above the 9th ID was already a veteran division having served in North Africa and Sicily. The 9th has an excellent website that can accessed. (9th Infantry Division) 


Teed’s mom with her son’s picture to her right at the restaurant they started with the money they received after Teed’s father was killed in an accident. Notice the slight smile on Mrs. Teed’s face. Like most moms of the period she would be proud of her son but also worried. I suspect she may have been uncomfortable posing. A mother who lost her son in battle was called a Gold Star Mother. A little flag with a gold star was put up in a front window of an apartment or house to give notice that a mom was grieving and  that her son had been killed. Over 400,00 gold stars were awarded in WW2 to American moms. Teed made it home as noted above.

I confess that I had second thoughts researching the story on Pvt. Teed. I felt like I was intruding on a family’s personal story. Others may have felt the same way as I saw some people offering this same Life issue to a researcher who was researching the story.  I’m glad the family had access to the issue and I’d gladly donate my copy to the family if they requested it.
Having said all that I intend this blog entry as a tribute. I think Teed was typical in many ways. The generation he came from was called the greatest and it’s easy to understand why. It was the last time the US fully mobilized for war and it was on the heels of the Great Depression. Most responded to the crisis out of a sense of duty and love of country. Many families gave the “last full measure”  with the lives of their sons. I hope this blog serves in some small way to pay them all tribute.


1 Comment

Okinawa Kamikaze story

Personal story of a Kamikaze…very interesting.

Pacific Paratrooper

This is an odd story that involves a flight instructor, his family, and a single-minded request. The whole thing was so strange, in fact, that the Japanese government censored it at the time.

Hajime Fujii was born on August 30, 1915, in Ibaraki Prefecture as the oldest of seven children. He joined the army and proved to be such a skilled machine gunner that they sent him to China.

The Chinese weren’t too happy about that, which is why Fujii got hit by a mortar shell that wounded his left hand. Sent to the hospital, he was tended to by Fukuko – a beautiful field nurse from Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture.

It was love at first sight. Back then, arranged marriages were the norm, but the two were having none of it. So they returned to Japan, got married, and had two adorable daughters – Kazuko and Chieko.

Instead of…

View original post 818 more words


Killing the Custer Myth

On June 25th, 1876 George Armstrong Custer and 210 men of the 7th Cavalry were killed at The Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Custer and the battle took on mythic proportions due to the eastern press and the prejudices and racism of the times. Prejudices continue to this day although books have been written starting with Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (1970) that set the record straight.


Killing Custer by James Welch (1994) is another book; written from the Indian point of view that seeks to set the record straight.


My interest in the Indian Wars (1865-95) started when I was a child. I grew up with the John Wayne Western and in particular the John Ford Cavalry Trilogy consisting of Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande.


For a ten-year-old boy movies about the cavalry on the western plains was great stuff. Weather-beaten horse soldiers pursuing hostile Indians, rescuing white captives or holding the fort became play time themes with friends or with plastic Cowboys and Indians on the basement floor.

From there I graduated to the historian Robert Utley’s books on the Indian Wars and US Cavalry on the plains.  Over the years I’ve read Custer and Crazy Horse by Stephen Ambrose and numerous other books on the Indian Wars and The Battle of the Little Big Horn in particular.

It’s a historical sub-set that still interests me and finding Killing Custer in a used book store stoked my interest since it was obvious it was written from the Indian point of view.

It’s a different take in the sense of how Welch put it together.

Welch begins by telling the story of the Marias River Massacre. On January 23rd, 1870 Col. E.M. Baker (who was drunk) led four companies of cavalry and 55 mounted infantry on a surprise attack on a Pikuni ( Pigean Blackfeet) Indian camp by the Marias River in Montana.

The soldiers were looking for 25 Pikuni warriors who killed a white man named Malcom because the white man had accused their leader Owl Child of being a cowardly horse thief in front the tribe thus causing the man great shame. Malcom also allegedly raped Owl Child’s wife. The link above gives more detail but basically the Pikuni sought revenge for the continued insults and rape of Owl Child’s wife.

The soldiers were supposed to keep the peace and murder should be punished regardless of what Malcom did. The problem was the soldiers led by the drunken Baker came upon the wrong Pikuni camp which was identified as such by their half Pikuni scout.

https://youtu.be/jYVjnOA4LKk (Link to the Montana Historical Society presentation on the massacre.)

No matter declared Baker since Indians are all the same. Baker even threatened the scout lest the scout warn the innocent of the crime sleeping Indians. The soldiers surrounded the village and opened fire. Thousands of rounds of ammunition were fired into the tents of the sleeping Indians and when it was over 173 men, women and children had been massacred. (Some sources say over 200 were killed.)

Baker’s attitude was unfortunately common on the frontier and was often expressed as, “nits make lice.” The phrase simply reflects the notion that it was quite okay to kill children since they would not grow up to be warriors. The attitude was genocidal even while all the actions taken against the Indians were not executed to that extreme.

Ironically, Owl Child, the leader of the 25 warriors who killed the white man lay dying from small pox in another camp. Small pox killed more Indians than the soldiers ever did since they did not have any immunity from the horrible disease.

My first thought was what does this incident that I had never heard of in all my reading have to do with killing Custer and the Little Big Horn?

Welch makes two points about starting his narrative in such a way.

  1. Most everyone knows about the Little Big Horn and almost no one knows about the Marias River Massacre even though the numbers of dead are similar.
  2. Baker sunk into obscurity even though his superiors approved of the action. Custer, who led a similar winter surprise attack on the Southern Cheyenne at the massacre at the Washita River killed 103 Indians including many women and children became [again because of his Civil War record]  a national hero and famous Indian fighter.

Welch himself was half Blackfoot (d.2003) so the story was personal just as it provided a contrast to the Custer mythology and the reality of what really went on in the Indian Wars.

From there Welch lays out the story of the Sioux and Cheyenne who would eventually destroy Custer and most of the 7th Cavalry at The Battle of the Little Big Horn that also took place in Montana. He interjects his personal journey through out the book and that’s what makes the book different. In Killing Custer you get the facts told well from someone who simply wants the record set straight. I think he succeeds.

Since the publication of the book in 1994 the public attitude has certainly shifted because of books like Killing Custer and the fairer treatment of the Indians in movies (Little Big Man in the 70s and Dances with Wolves in the 90s and recently Hostiles while inaccurate in many ways do show Indians in a more favorable light.)

At one time the 7th Cavalry monument at the Custer Battlefield in Montana was dedicated only to the 210 soldiers who died there, “for their country.” Now the monument commemorates the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors who died there as well “for their country.” I think it’s quite fitting.

I can’t leave the subject of Custer without adding my two cents. My father who grew up with the myth far more than I was a huge fan of the boy general. He had a copy of the famous Budweiser painting hanging in our basement for many years. I inherited it after he died and had to throw it out since it was in terrible, worthless condition.


Budweiser’s famous painting of Custer’s Last Stand. It hung in many a bar. My dad a reproduction in terrible condition.

Dad admired Custer primarily on Custer’s service in the Civil War where he led a Michigan Cavalry Brigade and later a division of cavalry under the aggressive Phil Sheridan in Sheridan’s devastating Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864.

There is no question of Custer’s bravery or his flamboyance. He was a fighter and it’s hard not to conclude that he enjoyed the glory that went along with his successes. In that he was not too different from other Union or Confederate officers.

What has always struck me is that Custer’s achievements in the Civil War were largely against a collapsing Confederacy who by late 1864 could not match the Union Cavalry any longer (having earlier in the war been much superior to the Union horsemen).

Other Union Cavalry commanders like Wesley Merrit achieved similar results if not more and did not get the recognition Custer received largely because of Custer’s press and flamboyance. In that, I think Custer was at least over rated in the Civil War and a disaster in the Indian Wars.

For example, at the Massacre at the Washita in 1868 Custer sent 19 men under Major Elliot to do an end around the sleepy Indian camp. The problem was Custer pressed on without any reconnaissance not knowing that the camp he attacked was only the first one in a string along the river.

Eliot, who had no clue was supposed to pursue the survivors from the first camp but instead ran into hundreds of other enraged Indians from the other camps. Eliot and all his men were killed and horribly mutilated. Custer to his shame never looked for them and they were found some time later. Custer claimed that he had to get back to the fort with his captives and besides there were too many other hostiles out there to deal with.

So, no reconnaissance and a callous disregard for the men in his command would ordinarily be unforgivable for an army officer.

On June 25th, 1876 Custer divided the 7th Cavalry into three detachments in an attempt to surround and attack from three directions the massive Indian camp on the Little Big Horn. The problem was he didn’t order a reconnaissance even though his Shoshone and Crow scouts told him that he faced a huge number of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors (about 2,000).

Custer valued surprise over accurate intelligence and charged ahead.  One of the other detachments got pinned down immediately and the third detachment joined the pinned down one rather than charge ahead and die with Custer.

All that to say Killing Custer is a good read and could be titled Killing the Custer Myth.


Indian art depicting the aftermath of the Little Big Horn. Custer’s folly would be a good title.

Leave a comment

A Rapist and Murderer Hanged, 1937

This post is a little off my beaten path because it deals with crimes-murder and rape, to be more specific-the murder and rape of three little girls.

I recently purchased two 1937 copies of Life Magazine for $1.00 each. The purchase was a departure from my usual purchase of old magazines because 1937 was not of the World War Two war years of 1939-1945. But for a $1.00 each I could hardly go wrong.

While paging through both magazines I could not help to contrast the content between the 1937 editions of Life and the war years editions. It raised in my mind the observation that Life through its photo journalism specialty emphasized what was important to Americans at the time. The War in Europe would dominate from 1939 to 1945 but prior to those years and after Life was more domestic in outlook.

So here we are in 2014 and sadly we are getting used to mass murder and serial killers. In 1937 both seemed rare and so were big news. Below is the sad story of three little girls and an enraged community.

Below is the cover of of the July 19th, 1937 edition of Life. The picture is of a little black girl in Harlem cooling off in what was apparently a very hot summer.


The picture that caught my eye and raised my curiosity is the one below.


The first paragraph of the caption reads like this:

“This is the face of the worst kind of criminal-the kind whose acts turn civilized men and women into lynch mobs. It belongs to commonplace-looking men who move unmolested through the streets of U.S. cities. It reveals itself at last, in cellars and alleys and by lonely roads, to the most innocent and defenseless of humans. It is the face most hated and feared by police and parents throughout the world. It is the despoiler of children.”

The man’s name was Albert Dyer. Dyer was convicted late June, 1937 of raping and murdering  Madeline Everett, 7, her sister Melba, 9 and their playmate, Jeanette Stephens, 8. The crime occurred near Los Angeles.

According to  Murderpedia, the Encyclopedia of Murder, Dyer, who was employed as a WPA crossing guard and volunteer policeman lured the girls into an isolated ravine where he raped and killed each one. After the murders he ritually cleaned the bodies and prayed over them!

Dyer was an unlikely suspect because he was a WPA crossing guard and volunteer policeman. He was caught because after the bodies were discovered he showed up at the scene. His bizarre behavior at the scene of the crime made the police suspicious.

Part of the back story to the Dyer case was that in order to get Dyer to confess the police told him he could explain himself to the angry mob who wanted to lynch him. It would not work today but at the time it did and Dyer confessed.

As the grandfather of a five-year-old girl I could identify with the angry mob anxious for vigilante justice. Even today with our soft on crime mindset child molesters and child murderers are thought to be worst of the worst and worthy of only death.

Dyer was hanged at San Quentin Prison in 1938.

The link above at Murderpedia gives more detail as to what happened, Dyer’s statements at the time and much more background information.

Life Magazine noted this:

“In New York City arrests for sex crimes average one every six hours. Most offenders get off with fines or short jail terms, are then turned loose to commit new crimes. The only remedy for this alarming evil, say psychiatrists, is to make the punishment fit the crime but the criminal, to keep such men locked up for life, or until their abnormality has been cured.”

We live in a society and culture that seems to believe that mankind is getting better-more good, if you will. A child murderer like Dyer is deemed “sick” or as Life put it, “abnormal.” Far too easily we attribute “mental illness” to crime and in some cases, if not most it mitigates against a harsher punishment for just plain evil.

We are not getting better as these stats from FBI Crime Statistics show. An optimistic view of mankind is certainly not the Bible’s view of mankind’s sorry state.

Dyer was hanged as a deterrent for others who might be considering a heinous crime Some argue that the death penalty has not proven to be a deterrent and given the rising crime rates even in states that have the death penalty perhaps they are right.

One thing is certain-by hanging Dyer the State of California insured that he would not be raping and murdering any more little girls and that’s good enough for me.




New Cars for 1940!

“Hitler sure made a mistake fighting us. Every kid from age 14 on knows how to drive a car or a truck. We are a nation on wheels!” (line in a movie from a US tank driver somewhere in France in 1944.)

As a kid I think I watched every World War 2 movie ever made (mostly produced in the 1950’s). Most were of the “B film” variety and had lame dialogue like the lines above that I vaguely remember.  The movies also conveyed the overall message that the USA pretty much won the war all by itself.

This of course was nonsense since Britain and the Commonwealth countries had been fighting against Germany and Italy since 1939-40 and the US didn’t get into the war until late 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

American automotive productive production not only put own armies on wheels but also the Soviet Union in the Lend-Lease program. Consider these production figures:

During WW2 the US produced 108,410 tanks and 2,382,311 other motor vehicles. The Soviet Union produced 106,025 tanks and 197,100 other motor vehicles.

Russia today downplays the Allied contribution to their war effort but the facts below speak for themselves (and these facts say nothing about the enormous number of tanks and motor vehicles supplied to Soviet Russia by Britain and Canada.)

The US sent to the Soviet Union during WW2 44,000 jeeps, 375, 883 trucks, 8,071 tractors and 12,700 tanks. (lend lease to the Soviet Union)

All of it came from the US automotive industry.

In 1940 the US was still at peace and the ads and stories in Life Magazine reflected the calm before the storm to come. On October 23, 1939 Life Magazine ran a huge story on the City of Detroit-headline and first page pictured below. Detroit in 1940 and for many years after was the US powerhouse for the manufacture of cars and trucks. This went virtually unchallenged until the 1970’s when Japanese imports began to make their appearance in American markets.

Nevertheless, in 1940 Detroit was the king city of the automobile industry and the ads below reflect perhaps the last opportunity Americans would have to purchase a new car (until 1946 when domestic production resumed). The ads are all from the October 23, 1939 issue of Life Magazine.

Detroit 1939

The caption reads, “The big men of Detroit” and lists who they are. One is the the CEO of Chrysler and another the CEO of General Motors. 

Plymouth 1940

The line on the bottom reads, “The Low-Priced Brand with the Luxury Ride.” A top of the line Plymouth in 1940 went for about $1,000.00.  According the National Archives the average yearly wage in 1940 was $1368.00.

Ford 1940

A top of the line Ford also went for around $1000.00 and on the low end you could get a Ford for a little under $700.00


According to American Cars.com a 1940 DeSoto went for between $850.00 and $1000.00. DeSoto was a division of Chrysler and the brand disappeared by 1961. 

Studebaker 1940

Seeing Studebaker advertise a new car for $660.00 prompted me to try and find out what the others on this page went for. It seems that Studebaker was targeting the economy class with their two page ad that ran in October, 1939. My dad worked as an auto mechanic after he got out the Army in 1946. He loved the Studebakers and bought one in the early 1950’s. He was always sorry he sold it.