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.
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.
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
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:
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
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)
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)
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)
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…
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)