I get so bent when people say that Custer is this one-dimensional figure, whose entire life is encompassed and defined by one bad “hair” day on the Little Bighorn. We killed Indians for 400 years; Custer died at 37…do the math. He did not kill them all.
Most people don’t know that Custer was given the desk that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant sat at when he wrote out the surrender terms ending the Civil War. Sheridan bought the desk from its owner, Wilmer McClean, and presented it as a gift for Libbie Custer.
Baseball players and gunfighters are projections of our own national myth. We “read” into them, and their actions, certain traits (usually heroic) which we would like to think of as embodied within ourselves. That these figures seldom live up to these ridiculous expectations is thought by many to be a sign of weakness and a cause to chop said hero off at the knees. What should be celebrated is not their assumed heroic status, but rather the human qualities that made them do what they did to become heroic.
My friends know me well enough to stand behind me when I’m either shooting a gun or drinking.
I’ve stood where Davy Crockett entered the realm of mythdom. On a different level, I’ve stood where John Wayne (as Davy Crockett) “died.” For me, it was the reality (or lack of it) in that movie that gave me my first visual interpretation of the famous fight. This was the beginning of my coming to grips with that dual-headed coin, history/myth.
Shooting critters in the Boonies is my favorite form of relaxation; and it has nothing to do with how many birds I kill. My favorite hunt took place near Tombstone on the 125th anniversary of the gunfight, October 26, 2006. Rusty York and I drove out to the Dragoon Mountains to hunt quail. I only got off one shot. Then we broke out the scotch and watched the sunset with Larry and Sherry Monahan. That was a great hunt…and it had nothing to do with hunting!
The best thing that ever happened to me was when my first (and only) wife said “I’m in love with another man!” Truly! Getting out from that quagmire gave me the freedom to commit myself to my work. And to think I?never wrote and thanked the guy!
I get so tired of the clichéd images in Western art. Do you ever see paintings of Cole Younger playing croquet or an Apache beating his wife on a Friday night? NO! Indians played baseball, golf, croquet, ping pong and poker. The James Gang paused on their ride toward Northfield to watch a baseball game. One of the reasons Geronimo fled the reservation was because Apaches were not allowed to beat their wives. These are people we’re talking about, not marble monuments. Yet each time I go to another opening….
The only place I haven’t been to is the pass at Thermopylae in Greece (site of 300, which inspired me to want to see it). Others that rank include: Shackleton’s grave on South Georgia Island. The mission at Rorke’s Drift. The beaches at Normandy. Yankee Stadium. The Pyramids (Ivy Wingo, a catcher for the Cincinnati Reds, once threw a baseball over one of the pyramids!).
Give me a good hat and a good “posse” of pals. Turn us loose on some landscape with some good scotch, a true-shooting rifle, a campfire and a warm sleeping bag, and you’ll hear more bad jokes, unfinished poems, entire movie scripts and long, loud laughing than most people can deal with. (Apologies to Frank, Rusty, Rich and Buckeye!)
Thom Ross, Western Artist
Thom Ross will set up his “Indians on the Beach” installation in San Francisco, California, this fall. His previous art installations include one for Willie Mays in New York in 2004 and one for Custer’s Last Stand in Medicine Tail Coulee in 2005.