Garryowen and George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Cavalry

George Armstrong Custer and “Garryowen” 

Countless books have been published about George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. At the time the battle that took place along the Little Bighorn River in Montana represented the largest single Indian War military loss. An interesting side story about Custer’s 7th Cavalry was their unofficial regimental marching song “Garryowen“. Marching tunes have been used in the military for centuries. They are used today.

garryowen montana memorial

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Peace Memorial, Garryowen Montana

All branches of the military are known to have cadence calls. The cadence call requires no musical instruments and sometimes the lyrics are composed of call outs and answers.

When you look back to the time before mechanized transportation, a marching song during a protracted hike helps build cohesion, keeps the troops in step and makes a long march a bit less weary. Essentially these tunes add rhythm to a march. A march is work and you could say these are “work songs”. In the U.S. these cadences are sometimes referred to as “jody calls”. The name Jody appears in many traditional military cadences thus the term “jody calls“.

Custer Adopts the Irish Garryowen

The story is that George Custer first heard the tune being sung among his Irish troopers. It was a old Irish tune going back to around 1860 with some believing it came directly from this neighborhood of Limerick Ireland. Some historians believe it was introduced to Colonel Custer by Captain Myles W. Keogh, one of his officers. Keogh’s father reportedly had been with the Fifth Royal Irish Lancers who had used this song. The Seventh Cavalry officially adopted the tune in 1867.

myles keogh of the seventh cavalry

Photo of the Seventh Cavalry. Myles Keogh seated furthest in front.

It originated just outside Limerick, Ireland and translates into “Owens Garden“. Custer liked it and started humming it himself. He also thought the tune matched up pretty well to a regiment of Cavalry horse soldiers on the march.

The tune actually was used by Irish regiments as a drinking song and some say it’s quick stepped  rhythm can be traced as far back as the early 1800’s. It’s first introduction among U.S. soldiers was in the early 1860’s during the Civil War.

In 1981 the Army’s First Cavalry Division made “Garryowen” it’s official song.

Original Garryowen Lyrics

“Garryowen”

[Verse 1]

Let Bacchus’s sons be not dismayed,
but join with me each jovial blade,
come booze and sing and lend your aid,
to help me with the chorus:

“Chorus”

 Instead of spa we’ll drink down ale
and pay the reckoning on the nail,
for debt no man shall go to jail;
from Garry Owen in glory

[Verse 2]

We are the boys who take delight
in smashing Limerick lamps at night,
and through the street like sportsters fight,
tearing all before us. (Chorus)

[Verse 3]

We’ll break windows, we’ll break doors,
the watch knock down by threes and fours,
then let the doctors work their cures,
and tinker up our bruises. (Chorus)

[Verse 4]

We’ll beat the bailiffs out of fun,
we’ll make the mayor and sheriffs run,
we are the boys no man dare dun,
if he regards a whole skin. (Chorus)

[Verse 5]

Our hearts so stout have got us fame,
for soon ’tis known from whence we came,
where’re we go they dread the name,
of Garry Owen in glory. (Chorus)

Visit the Custer Battlefield

The Custer Battlefield Museum is located in Garryowen, MT. The site is right along Interstate-90 a few miles south of the Custer Battlefield and about 55 miles northwest of Sheridan, Wyoming.

This museum offers a vast display of photos, weaponry, paintings, manuscripts and many many more interesting artifacts. Several events are scheduled including reenactments of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The museum also offers internships for interested students. If you are in the general area I think this would make an excellent stop.

Below are links to additional Trips Into History articles you may enjoy…

 The Buffalo Soldiers of West Texas

The Grattan Massacre in Wyoming and the Start of War

The Resting Place of the Heroes of the Alamo

little bighorn memorial

Little Bighorn Memorial on Last Stand Hill

Annual Battle of the Little Bighorn Reenactment 

This annual event is scheduled each June. Learn and experience the historic struggle for control of the West by visiting the amazing Little Bighorn Reenactment firsthand.

The Reenactment is located just south of Crow Agency, MT and between the historic points of Custer’s Last Stand Hill, Reno’s Charge / Retreat, and Reno – Benteen Battlefield. This battle has been called Custer’s Last Stand for over a century, with the National Park Service renaming of the Battlefield monument and park to Little Bighorn Battlefield.

For more information and for exact directions see website www..littlebighornreenactment.com

(Article copyright 2013 Trips Into History. Photos and images in public domain)

Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill Cody

The story about the great Lakota Sioux Chief Sitting Bull and William “Buffalo Bill” Cody were two life stories as dissimilar as can be imagined while at the same time had some interesting traits in common.

sitting bull

Sitting Bull

There was probably no other Indian leader who resisted the United States takeover of Sioux native lands as much as Sitting Bull did. Sitting Bull was believed to have been born in 1831 near the Standing Rock Agency which was in the Dakota Territory. To be sure, Sitting was a warrior during his younger years. He was very involved in leading war parties during Red Cloud’s War which lasted from 1865 to 1868 and resulted in the abandonment of three army forts along the Bozeman Trail in Wyoming and Montana. Sitting Bull went on to become the central figure in the Sioux War of 1876 which resulted in the Battle of the Little Bighorn debacle. Following that battle, Sitting Bull along with a few hundred of his people fled to Canada in 1877. His stay in Canada was quite an ordeal for both he and his people. The winter weather was severe and food was in short supply. Finally, in July of 1881 Sitting Bull crossed back into the United States and surrendered himself to the army.

Shortly after the Sioux War of 1876-77, the Native Americans of the Montana and Wyoming area began returning to reservations. Some held out longer than others such as Crazy Horse, but in the end they all gave themselves up and were transported to various reservations. Steamboats were even used by the government to transport some of the Sioux. In fact, as a bit of irony, the steamboat Far West, which was used to transport many of the wounded soldiers from the Sioux battle of June 1876 back to Fort Abraham Lincoln, was also employed by the army to transport surrendering Sioux back downriver towards their reservations months later. This occurred all during the years of Sitting Bull’s self-imposed Canadian exile.

buffalo bill cody

William "Buffalo Bill" Cody

When Sitting Bull surrendered in 1881 he was moved down to the Standing Rock Agency which today is very near the North and South Dakota border. He and his people were kept separate from the others fearing that his presence night reignite trouble. At one point in 1881 Sitting Bull and his band were sent to Fort Randall in the southern part of the territory as prisoners of war but were moved back once again to the Standing Rock Agency in 1883. While Sitting Bull was totally aware that the struggle against the white man was over, he still resisted adopting a new way of life. In a way it was peaceful resistance. At the same time, the U.S. military was aware of Sitting Bull’s influence among his people.

What’s interesting to the historian of the Indian Wars and the old west in general is how Sitting Bull’s return happened about the same time that William Cody was organizing his Wild West. Cody was born in 1846 and went on to be a soldier, a buffalo hunter and finally one of the United States’ most successful show promoters. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West began in 1883 in North Platte Nebraska. This would have been the same year that Sitting Bull was relocated to the Standing Rock Agency.

Although Cody served as an army scout, he fully respected the rights of native Americans. Buffalo Bill was quite outspoken in his belief that the Indian troubles were a direct result of broken treaties on the part of the U.S. government. He went out of his way in calling the Native Americans our “former” foes who are now our friends. This was not necessarily an opinion held by many and it did set buffalo Bill apart from others. The former bison hunter also pressed for limits on hide hunting and the establishment of hunting seasons.

William Cody was known for his employment of Native Americans as part of his Wild West productions. In answer to criticism from some quarters, Cody simply pointed out that he was giving useful work to unemployed Indians. The one thing that could be said about the Wild West was that audiences were seeing the real thing. Native Americans performed as warriors attacking stagecoaches and wagon trains. They and their families were also encouraged to set up camps while traveling with the show similar to the camps they would have set up on their native land. Cody’s use of the native Americans as performers was one of the reasons for the Wild West’s enormous success.

sitting bull and buffalo bill cody

Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill Cody

In regards to Sitting Bull, Buffalo Bill Cody held no grudges. Sitting Bull was as entrenched in his beliefs as Cody was with his. Sitting Bull was asked by Buffalo Bill to join his show as a performer. Sitting Bull was given permission by the army to leave the reservation to join the Wild West. The great Sioux chief received about $50 a week for riding once around the arena, where he was a popular attraction. Not bad money at all in 1884.  A story was started that Sitting Bull cursed his white audiences as he rode his horse in the arena but historians could find no proof that this really occurred. It was said that Sitting Bull did give out autographs for about one dollar each before and after performances. The Chief reportedly gave this money back to his people who were quite poor. Sitting Bull was also known to have given speeches promoting education for Native Americans and for all parties, Indian and white, to reconcile relations. Sitting Bull spent merely four months with Cody’s Wild West and afterward returned to the Standing Rock Agency. Sitting Bull was ultimately killed while being taken into custody in 1890 during what was called the Ghost Dance movement. The story of the Ghost Dance and Sitting Bull can be found on our link Ghost Dance..

Another related article that’s quite interesting is the story of Pawnee Bill and his Wild West show.

When you look at both Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill Cody, it’s not too hard to see how both men came together in the Wild West shows. The early 1880’s were a time of transition for both. The Indian Wars were winding down, Sitting Bull was being held on the reservation and Buffalo Bill was preparing to showcase an entire era of American history to the world. If anything, Sitting Bull’s participation in Cody’s Wild West gave him a platform to press for aid for his people. Where at one time Sitting Bull was considered an enemy, he was now acting as a delegate for Native Americans everywhere. It’s also fitting that someone with the respect for Native American rights that Buffalo Bill Cody surely had, would also be in a position to help the Indian by offering a public platform for one of their most famous Chiefs.

(Photos are in public domain)