Custer’s Arrival

(Frank) And we’re back. Hey, you know, there’s a novelty song that came out back in the 50’s, early 60’s called “Please Mr. Custer I Don’t Want to Go.” (Deb) I love that song. (Frank) I know. And I’m only doing that cause I know you’re going to do a story about Custer. (Deb) Yea, you just can’t avoid it. Western history, Kansas. You can’t avoid it. (Frank) Now, you also said that you had about a thousand school children that you talked to, but one of them especially stood out because he asked a question. (Deb) This was so funny and I’m reminded of it because in this segment that we’re going to do Libbie Custer talked about how there are no walls at Fort Riley and she’s surprised when they get there. It’s not like a real fort. Well most of the western forts did not have walls for obvious reasons, there’s not enough wood. And so you can’t put up a palisade. So, when Jane and I were showing students the images of an aerial representation of Fort Wallace I asked the school kids, do you see walls? And they’re like, no. And I’m like, well why not? And some of them would say because it’s easier to get in and out. All this stuff. You could escape. It was hilarious. But the one true Kansas boy, because they didn’t build any! (Frank) There you go. Makes sense. (Deb) That just cracked me up, because I started a file years ago on what I called Kansas logic and I came to realize it’s frontier logic. These guys, for example, I think this was my first one. After Lincoln was assassinated this group of Kansans wrote to President Johnson and said, “We want Jeff Davis home because we want him home.” That’s why we want him home, because we want him home. And it cracked me up and they had a committee and this is the letter they came up with. (Frank) We want him home because we want him home. (Deb) And it’s that simple and straightforward, we don’t need to discuss it anymore. And that little boy, a long line of pioneers right there. Because they didn’t build any, that’s why there’s no walls. (Frank) You know, Art Linkletter’s “Children Say the Darndest Things.” (Deb) Yea, they were awesome. They were awesome. (Frank) Please Mr. Custer, I don’t want to go… (Deb) Please Mr. Custer…. Please T.J. give us another book on Custer, let’s take a look at it. In October 1866, George and Libbie Custer arrived at Fort Riley, Kansas.”This is not a fort, tho called so,” Libbie wrote to a friend, “For there are no walls enclosing it.” Rather, Libbie described it as a little city of limestone buildings. The forts of the American West were indeed different from those traditional forts of the east in that there were no walls. There simply was not enough wood to build them in most western landscapes. Instead, army posts depended on commanding a view of the countryside. Several Kansas forts, including Fort Riley, are discussed in the latest release from Pulitzer-prize winning author T. J. Stiles. The book, Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America will satisfy the nit-pickiest of Custer fanatics as well as those of us fascinated with the 19th Century American West. Stiles’ rich descriptions of the landscapes and personalities of this era of Kansas make you want to step through the looking glass and straight into that colorful time. Custer was not born in Kansas nor did he die here, but he is indelibly pressed upon the landscape. Though countless books have been written about him, this is a welcome volume. Western historian Robert Utley said of Stiles, “He portrays a real Custer, full of flaws but possessed of outstanding combat skills and leadership. This biography easily overshadows its many predecessors, offering new facts and interpretations as well as a wonderful read.” I concur. And for the Kansan, many of our iconic army posts are brought to life in a new and exciting way. This really is a must-read.

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