Long winter gone: son of the plains - volume 1

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From the battlefield to the homefront, they were the proud and passionate inheritors of a glorious frontier, their fates linked to the star of one ambitious, enigmatic—and tragic—man

 

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GEORGE ARMSTRONG CUSTER

 

Driven to succeed at any cost, his destiny was bound inextricably to the savagely beautiful Great Plains—and to the very people he came to conquer.

GENERAL PHILIP SHERIDAN

 

A seasoned commander and Civil War hero, he’d witnessed firsthand just how fierce the “Boy General” could be—and tried to protect his friend Custer from himself.

TOM CUSTER

 

An incorrigible lady’s man, rogue, and hero in his own right, he worshipped his famous brother to a fault and would take his stand beside him no matter what.

ROMERO

 

A half-breed scout, his loyalties were divided between his Mexican and Cheyenne heritage—and the white man’s army he was paid to advise.

LIBBIE CUSTER

 

As Custer’s beloved wife, she understood the soldier in her husband—but not the complex man who yearned for the one thing she could never give him.

MONASEETAH

 

Daughter of a proud people, she lost her family to the pony soldiers only to lose her heart to the fiercest and most famous of them all—Custer.

Terry C. Johnston’s triumphant novel

 

LONG WINTER GONE

 

 

General George Armstrong Custer as he appeared in the Washita Winter of 1868-1869. Photograph courtesy of the Custer Battlefield National Monument

 CONTENTS 

Cover

Title Page

Dedication

Map

Prologue

Book I - Washita

   Chapter 1

   Chapter 2

   Chapter 3

   Chapter 4

   Chapter 5

   Chapter 6

   Chapter 7

   Chapter 8

   Chapter 9

   Chapter 10

   Chapter 11

Book II - Sweetwater

   Chapter 12

   Chapter 13

   Chapter 14

   Chapter 15

   Chapter 16

   Chapter 17

   Chapter 18

   Chapter 19

   Chapter 20

   Chapter 21

   Chapter 22

   Chapter 23

   Chapter 24

   Chapter 25

   Chapter 26

Book III - Monaseetah

   Chapter 27

   Chapter 28

   Chapter 29

   Chapter 30

From the Author

Copyright

Dedicated to my friends,Charlotte and Jory Sherman—for all your time and tears, work and worry …I’ll never be able to repay what you both havegiven me from the heart and core of your beings.

Indian women soon got to know the white men very well indeed. Many became wives, mistresses, casual bedfellows. The relationships that evolved were about as intimate as human contacts could well be. Yet, there was a gulf that was never bridged: a chasm, not just of race but of archaeological time, that perhaps no civilized white man has ever succeeded in closing between himself and a primitive woman.

WALTER O’MEARADaughters of the Country

“I was wondering,” an Ankara chief mused, “whether you white people have any women amongst you.” I assured him in the affirmative. “Then,” said he, “why is it that your people are so fond of our women? One might suppose you had never seen any women before.”

HENRY M. BRACKENRIDGEJournal of a Voyage Up The Missouri River, in 1811

 

 PROLOGUE 

“THEhell of it is … I can’t seem to put my finger on what’s gnawing in my goddamned gut,” Philip H. Sheridan growled.

As he tore the moist stub of a cigar from his thin lips, a bit of dead ash fell on the lapel of his dark blue army tunic. He brushed off what he could with a quick swipe of a hand, smudging the gray into the uniform like a street beggar. Lieutenant General Sheridan studied each one of his staff in turn.

Lieutenant Colonel Michael V. Sheridan was the first to speak, answering his older brother’s question. “I don’t understand what’s eating at you, Philip. Custer won the victory we were certain could be won.”

“And a stunning success it was at that, General,” echoed Major Nelson B. Sweitzer of the Second Cavalry.

“No mistake about that, Nelson.” Sheridan used his cigar to jab home the point. “Still, a voice inside troubles me.”

In stony silence, the commander of the Department ofthe Missouri turned back to the wide window behind his massive oak desk, his eyes gazing far beyond the bustling Topeka, Kansas, street below. Though he stood shorter than most of the officers gathered around him, Sheridan somehow conveyed a greater stature than most men of the day. Here stood a confident man, every inch of muscle rippling with the martial fervor that had made him the hero of countless cavalry battles in the late war between the states.

But that rebellion lay some four and a half years behind him. Today he had a new war to fight.

The leaden skies dropped a wet, icy snow that turned the Topeka streets into a barnyard slop. Sheridan turned back to his staff and sank heavily into his chair at last. “Sandy, tell me what you’re thinking.”

Major George A. Forsyth cleared his throat. “Undoubtedly, Custer did more at the Washita than my command of frontier scouts ever hoped of doing, pinned down on Beecher’s Island, General. I can’t fault him his success.”

“He damn well could have gotten himself wiped out!” blurted Lieutenant Colonel James W. Forsyth, Sandy’s brother. “Himself … along with a good piece of his regiment. But we all know that, don’t we? That’s something no one in this room has had the guts to mention. Begging the General’s pardon—”

Sheridan waved his hand; flakes of ash littered the papers scattered across his desk. “No offense, Tony. We all know—don’t we, gentlemen—that Tony’s right. But that’s not all that bothers me.” He rose stiffly, the cold in this office penetrating to his marrow more of late. At the nearby hutch where the ever-present bottles and glasses waited, Sheridan poured himself a few fingers of amber liquid.Without ceremony or inviting the others to join him, he tossed the fire down a throat more parched these days with the burn of long hours and too many cigars.

“Is this damned Custer doing a single thing different than he ever has in his military career, sir?” Michael Sheridan asked.

With the back of his hand the general wiped some lingering drops of whiskey from his bushy mustache after a second drink. “Near as I can tell, Custer’s still the same cavalry magician he was at Gettysburg, Shenandoah, and Appomattox Wood.” He slammed the empty whiskey glass down. “And frankly, gentlemen—Philip H. Sheridan isn’t a man to argue with success.”

“All of us need reminding that those victories were exactly why we wanted Custer brought out of that year of his … unofficial retirement.” Major Morris V. Ashe uttered the words the rest of Sheridan’s staff wouldn’t admit to. “All of us asked for him back before his court-martial was over … simply because we all knew he was theonlyone who could march into Indian Territory. Any man here who says he didn’t believe Custer was theonlyone who could slash his way through the hostile tribes last year is a damned liar.”

“Strong words, Major.” Michael Sheridan sank into his horsehair-stuffed chair, hands steepled before his bearded chin.

“But true, sir,” Ashe said. “Wasn’t a one of us didn’t know what Custer could accomplish … what Custeris.”

“Sounds like you agree with his tactics, Morris.”

Ashe glared at Michael Sheridan. “He won, didn’t he?”

The younger Sheridan turned away without a word, lighting his own cigar.

“Goddamn it, that’s what we’re all about, isn’t it?” Ashe prodded the rest of them.

Philip Sheridan finally filled the aching silence. “Yes, Major. I suppose you are more than right. You’re damned right. We are army. It’s not just what we do. It’s what weare.”

“General, again I beg your pardon,” Tony Forsyth said, “but Custer’s success last winter don’t hide the fact that he blundered twice in winning his startling victory.”

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