By: Randy Tucker
She heard the sound of a huge fire spreading over the top of the village. As the little girl ran to her grandmother, she caught the first smell of strange smoke coming from the direction of the noise. In her four-year-old mind, it could only be one thing: a huge prairie fire.
What she heard and smelled was huge, but it was no fire, at least not in the natural sense.
As men of George Custer’s doomed 7th Cavalry engaged the outraged Sioux and Cheyenne warriors on the banks of the Greasy Grass on an unbearably hot day in late June 1876, the little girl had no idea how her life would be overturned in completely unexpected ways.
She grabbed her grandmother’s hand, and the two of them ran to the top of a hill for a better view. Below them in the valley, largely obscured by the heavy smoke of black-powder firing .45-70 Springfield Model 1873 carbines and heavy cavalry pistols, was an epic battle, one that would live on in legend and lore for all time.
Battles before smokeless powder was invented were dirty, grimy affairs that left enemies largely blind to each other as the heavy smoke of firing weapons quickly spread across the ground.
The grandmother thought she saw some of her grandsons riding in the fight and wanted to stop them. She and the little girl ran down the hill toward the battle, but they were stopped by young Cheyenne men who were driving stakes into the ground and tethering their feet with long leather straps to those posts.
The old Sioux woman and her granddaughter had found the legendary Cheyenne Dog Soldiers who would eventually be killed or badly wounded as all 12 of them blocked Custer’s escape.
“Grandmother, you must take the girl and leave. This is dangerous. The enemy is just over the hill,” the young Cheyennes told them. “You must go now.”
The woman and the little girl ran back to the safety of the hill and started to sing honor songs for the braves fighting below.
Jump ahead a lifetime, and that little girl became an old, blind woman living on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Life had been hard for her in the intervening years with the loss of her family, her land, and the attempted destruction of her culture by the American government, but one of her hardest moments lay just ahead of her.
She was proud when her grandsons enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight Nazi Germany.
One of her grandsons was in the first wave at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 and heard the horrible growl of the German MG42 machine gun as the 7.92x57mm shells killed hundreds of his fellow soldiers on the beach.
The MG42 manufactured by Mauser was as much a psychological terror as it was a physical one.
The young Sioux soldier made it across the beach but died later that afternoon in a firefight.
Most Americans killed there in action were eventually buried at the Normandy cemetery, but per his tribe’s wishes, the young man’s remains were transported back home to South Dakota for burial.
As his coffin was lowered into the ground, a military honor guard fired a final salute with their M-1 carbines. As the sound of the blasts resided, a solitary woman’s voice, accompanied by a little girl, could be heard coming down from a nearby hill.
The boy’s grandmother, the same little girl who sang for the Cheyenne warriors against Custer so long ago, was singing the same honor song with one of her own great-granddaughters for her fallen grandson and the little girl’s uncle.
Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.