IN EAST TEXASby
General George Armstrong Custer and his men were massacred at Little Big Horn
in 1876, they may have gone to their graves with a piece of East
In 1865, 11 years before the massacre, General Custer was
assigned to Texas as a part of the reconstruction of Texas following the Civil
War. Custer's mounted cavalry, totaling 3,000 men, left Alexandria, Louisiana,
in August in 1865. Crossing the Sabine River at Bevil's Ferry in the northeast
corner of Newton County, the troops were headed for Austin
where Custer would become the federal military commander of a cavalry division.
Passing through the small Newton County community of Survey, Custer's men
saw eleven pair of hand-knitted socks hanging on a line to dry. Needing socks,
they proceeded to take them.
We know that Custer and his men died with
their boots on at Little Big Horn, but history doesnıt tell us if they died with
Newton County's socks on.
However, thanks to some research by Wanda Bobinger,
curator of the Polk County Memorial Museum at Livingston,
we do know what Custer and his men felt about East
Texas as they passed through on their way to Austin.
A member of Custerıs staff, known as Browne, kept a journal during the march
from Alexandria to Austin. He wrote:
"We've seen no good country in Texas as yet. Pines and deer, bugs and snakes inhabit
the whole face of this place. This country today looks as if it is uninhabited
by man, and if even God himself has abandoned it."
On August 20, eight
days after entering Texas, Custer and his men reached Swartwout Ferry on the Trinity
River in Polk County. They forded the river and camped on the west bank.
Encountering dozens of rattlesnakes on the bluff, they dubbed the site "Camp Rattlesnake."
Browne reported: "One could hardly put their foot down without walking on a snake.
We killed one with 14 rattles on his tail and more than six feet in length. We
remained in camp...and dreamed of snakes." In their saddles at 4 a.m. the next
morning, the cavalry marched 27 miles without water before coming to "two beautiful
villages of Cold Spring and
Waverly." Browne said they were "the only towns that I have seen yet in Texas
worth mentioning after traveling some 150 miles in the state."
the march through East Texas, Browne
apparently had an aversion to pine trees. He wrote: "There are pines before us,
pines behind us, pines on each side of us, nothing but pines."
also commented on East Texas' heat.
"Most of the men are broken out with heat as thick as one with measles. It felt
like I was being pricked with a million pins, or being sprinkled on bare skin
with hot ashes."
Browne also complained: "If you lay down in the pine
woods, an army of vermin will come in a moment to bite, scratch, sting and gnaw
you all at the same time."
Maybe Browne and the rest of Custer's men
should have stayed in Texas. Even the East
Texas vermin would have been a lot less painful than what they encountered
at the Little Big Horn.
Things Historical >
July 28 - August 3, 2002 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas
Published with permission
(Bob Bowman is author of Pioneers,
Poke Sallet and Politics with Archie McDonald. It is available through the East
Texas Historical Association, Nacogdoches)
City, Texas - Named
after General Custer. A ghost town today.