Hero of the Little Big Horn
by John A. Vikara
On the main platform of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, a train is pulling in across from the line of cars that will be used for a presidential tour. The inbound train had spent a week traveling from somewhere in the Western Territories. A man with sunbaked skin, dressed in an ill-fitting stiff suit and shirt, clothing he was not accustomed to wearing, is the only Native American in the group exiting from the cramped, antiquated car to stretch their aching muscles.
President Custer was escorted by his bodyguards into the office at the rear of the station. It was early July in Washington, D.C. and the windows of the room were open. Charles Benson of the Washington Post waited alone and rose from his chair when the president entered. Both men stood at around six-foot and both wore similar thick blond mustaches. The officer of the guard left them.
“Thank you for seeing me with your busy schedule,” Benson said.
“You’ll have to make it fast.” Custer’s voice was booming as though giving an order. “As you know, my vice-president and I are about to start on a tour celebrating Independence Day. You were lucky to have caught up with me before we left.”
“Mr. President, my publisher has asked for this interview to get your side of the controversy concerning the Little Big Horn massa… er, battle.”
Custer stroked his mustache. “You were about to say ‘massacre.’ It was kill or be killed. We were facing a superior force and I had to use every means at my disposal to preserve my command.”
“I’m sorry for the indiscretion, sir. It’s just that the word is bandied about so much that it seems to be at the tip of the tongue.”
“Good recovery, Mr. Benson.” Custer smiled. “Ask your questions.”
“Well, the main player making these allegations is Major Marcus Reno, who continues to state that you were strongly against bringing artillery and Gatling guns with you on your hunt for the Indians. He says that you were ordered to–“
“Major Reno?” Custer burst out in an even louder voice than he had been using. “He is no longer a major. His words were proven false at his court martial.”
“Nevertheless, he has said many times that you were compelled in written orders to bring the heavy armament with you, and as he said, orders that disappeared and were later said not to exist by General Terry, your superior for that operation and the supposed issuer of those orders.”
“Well, I think you said it all, Mr. Benson. You compared the words of a disgraced major to those of the current Secretary of War.”
“Some thought those orders were destroyed and there might have been a military conspiracy.”
“Poppycock! There were no orders. The extra armament was my idea and mine alone.”
“And that decision was what got you elected president, sir.”
“Yes, and the rest is history.” Custer stood. “I trust you have enough information for your article, Mr. Benson?”
Benson scanned his notes. “Yes, sir, I believe I do.”
Custer moved to the door and knocked. The captain responded and led the two men down the hall, followed by two armed soldiers. The captain steered the group into the main terminal toward a trio of bearded men in top hats and frock coats standing at the entrance to the track platform.
The three men smiled when the President’s group reached them. Vice President Garfield stepped forward to greet Custer. A thundering explosion echoed through the cavernous terminal and a splotch of blood suddenly appeared on Garfield’s coat as he fell.
A man stood before Custer pointing a revolver at him. There was a loud click as the hammer fell on an unproductive chamber. The surprised man spun and ran toward the street exit. The attack was so sudden that the soldiers were only now aiming their weapons.
“Don’t fire,” Custer shouted. “You might hit a bystander. Go after him!”
Custer was immediately surrounded by both the cabinet and a small crowd. Some attended to the wounded Garfield. Then there were distant shouts from the area of the street exit. “They’ve got him!”
The captain pushed through the throng and hurried to Custer’s side. “He’s in the custody of my detail, sir. They’ll turn him over to the police when they get here.”
“Thank you, captain,” Custer said. “See to it personally that the Vice President is moved to a more comfortable area, perhaps one of the offices.”
“But you’ll be unprotected, sir.”
“I’ll be fine. Go.”
The captain asked for volunteers to help carry Garfield and ordered the crowd to step away from the President.
“Gentlemen, I guess our plans will be cancelled but let us remain for a short time until we hear of the Vice President’s condition,” Custer said as he sat on the bench directly in front of the platform entrance. He couldn’t hide the collapse of his demeanor and the fear that was beginning to overwhelm him. His hand began to shake and he pulled out a handkerchief to dab his moist brow. It had been years since he had heard the sound of gunfire, and worse, having had a weapon pointed at him.
* * *
The man in the starched outfit carried a carpetbag containing the remainder of the meager means needed to sustain him on his long journey. The bag was still heavy, and a loud clunk was heard when it bounced off the bulkhead alongside the doorway. The heavy item to be used to revenge the deaths of the man’s family, killed by the army of the white man five years ago. Their leader was going to pay for the massacre that had left him the last survivor of his bloodline. He is surprised to find that his greatest obstacle to completing his mission, how to gain an audience with that leader, disappear within a few footsteps.
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John A. Vikara
John Vikara was born in New York City and is now retired and living in Pennsylvania. He has self-published a trilogy of novels – The Vandals, Adjuster, and National Defense – and a novella – Auld Lang Syne – as a supplement to complete the series. He has placed third in two short story contests and has had short stories appear in New Realm, eFiction, Heater, the Western Online, Jazz and Culture and Romance magazines.
13 thoughts on “Hero of the Little Big Horn”
Marvelous! Custer would have loved to be president. Stories like this that play with history are a delight when done well, as this one is.
Thank you, Jill.
Nicely researched alt history with a twist. Well done.
Thank you , Jean
A nice example of alternative history: what would have happened at LBH if Custer had accepted the suggestion of Gatling guns? Lots of interesting details, including a fanciful exploration of Custer’s character. A few minor quibbles on my part–the stiff suit becomes starched later. Were cotton suits common then? Were linen suits starched? Does it matter? Second quibble–the closing sentence was a bit hard for me to follow. The “he” is ambiguous, though I think it refers to the presumptive assassin. And I wasn’t sure whether it was a prequel or a forecast. Again, does it matter? AGB
Well written. A smooth read that cleverly bends history to extend an ego driven career past the Last Stand. Captures perfectly what I know about Custers character and his relationship with Reno. It could have been clearer that the man in the first paragraph and the an in the last paragraph were the same…or I misunderstood something. Still, a completely plausible alternative arc of the opportunist Custer’s fate had he won that Battle.
Thank you for your opening comments. Okay, I should’ve said it was the shirt – or in even more detail, the collar – that was stiff and starched. Sorry. Second, the final paragraph is devoted entirely to the assassin so any ‘he’ would apply to him. How could it be a prequel if Custer is sitting there waiting for him, to surprise the assassin who expects to have a difficult time finding an audience with him? It is a forecast. It is about to happen.
Finally, If it doesn’t matter, why bother mentioning it?
Very interesting take on what might have been if Custer lived.
Style is great.
Good read, very interesting take on what could have been.
I like this fictional twist of history. Well written and entertaining to read.
Thank you, everyone.