Thursday, August 31, 2017

After Arthur: On the Grief of Cats and Humans

by G. Jack Urso

 

Arthur was a feral cat I caught on August 30, 2015. He died sometime late Saturday night March 4, 2017. Before his passing, I had rescued many cats, and seen off several on their final journey, but few deaths have affected me as deeply as Arthur’s.                             
                               Wellington, March 2013                                    Arthur, September 2014 
Arthur was part of a community of black and white cats which had congregated in my backyard in the late Winter of 2013. His story really begins with his father Wellington, who carefully protected two young 6-7 month old kittens I named George and Gracie, and Gracie’s own brood of five 4-5 week old kittens. I rescued three of the kittens, but the other two disappeared before I could get them. Nothing was as heartbreaking as watching Gracie plaintively call for her kittens who never responded. Gracie waited around for a few days then left never to return. George disappeared, and Wellington, ever the tom, went on walkabout. George (apparently a girl) later reappeared in July VERY pregnant and gave birth to six kittens. I adopted out four and decided to keep George and two of her kittens.
 
Gracie before her rescue with one of her unnamed kittens, May 2013
Gracie seemed gone for good, but Wellington still came around occasionally, and, as winter began to set in that year, I managed to capture him. An older cat of approximately five years old, elderly for feral cats whose life span is only about five to six years in the wild, Wellington was found to be FIV positive (the feline equivalent of HIV), and upon the recommendation of the veterinarian and my colleagues in cat rescue, I was advised to put him down, which was the conventional wisdom at the time. I also had an 11 year old cat, Muffin, with cancer so they expressed concern about possible infections. Confused, and not knowing what else to do, I agreed. As it turned out, another vet told me there was no need to put down an FIV positive cat if they’re not aggressive, and Muffin died a week later in any event. I swore I would never let this happen again to another FIV positive cat that came into my life.
 
George and two of her kittens, Rabbit and Quincy, Jan. 2014
About a week or so after Wellington was caught, Arthur began showing up. He was younger than Wellington, but with the exact same tuxedo pattern, so I convinced myself Wellington was his father. Arthur lived under my front porch and I fed him for about a year and a half, through two bitter winters, until I decided I could not see him go through it again. I was determined to rescue Arthur and do right by him, giving him the chance his father did not have. After about a year and a half, on August 30, 2015, my opportunity arose and with the assistance of a drop-trap, I got him!  
 
The day I caught Arthur!
The day I caught Arthur was one of the happiest days of my life — though I don’t think he shared my sentiments. Imagine being a free-roaming cat one minute and holed up in a stranger's house the next. I joined together two very large dog cages and quarantined him. He was allowed out every now and then until after two months I allowed him free access to the house, and the other cats. I was prepared for a blow up between the feral male tom-cat and my decidedly domesticated house cats, but no such confrontation occurred. None — not even a snarl. In fact, except for an occasional sniff, they generally ignored him.
 
Arthur settling in shortly after rescue.
I did not take him in to get fixed right away. It was a gamble, but he was terrified of being handled by humans and I did not want to stress him out before he settled down, and frankly I did not want to know if he was FIV positive. He was non-aggressive with the other cats, who seemed to accept him as another one of my rescues, and he immediately used the litter box, never sprayed, or attempted to mate with the female cats.  
 

I had good intentions to get Arthur fixed, but I was working seven days a week at the time, and other needy rescues also needed my assistance. Then, in a miracle, in March 2016, after nearly three years since I last saw her, Gracie returned to my back yard, and very pregnant! As I take pictures of all my backyard strays, I was able to confirm it was her. I later found out she turned up in a feral community across the street that was taken care of by an old man until his recent death. That she thought to return here was evidence of some bond between us that she remembered. Feral for the entire time, I’m not sure how many litters she produced, but there was no question I was going to catch her this time. I caught her within 48 hours, and within another 48 hours gave birth to five kittens. As with her sister George, I decided to keep two of the kittens, Ditto and Silver.
Gracie, May 2013, still a feral.
Gracie, March 2016, before her rescue.
Any fear that a feral tom-cat would be aggressive towards the kittens was soon alieved. As they grew, Arthur tolerated their inquisitive sniffs and playful meows. I converted an area in my basement into a cat sanctuary. It included such features as a linoleum floor, two beds, a cat villa (sort of like a dog house for cats), assorted toys, a water fountain, and plenty of food. I removed the door from a large dog crate and set up a bed inside, which Arthur promptly took over as his throne room. Set at the far end of the basement, it offered him a strategic view of anyone coming down the stairs. The kittens, Ditto and Silver, kept going in and co-opting the crate, much to his annoyance. Surprisingly, Gracie became Arthur’s near-constant companion. They seldom got very close, but if he was upstairs, she was upstairs. If he was in the basement, she was in the basement. If he was on the bed, she was on the bed. If he was in the living room, she was in the living room. It’s possible they knew each other on the outside, but still, it was a bit odd. Eventually, Gracie ignored her kittens altogether, preferring Arthur’s distant and quiet company instead.
 
George and Gracie, together again after three years apart!
When Cats Cry
 
Cats sometimes react rather oddly when another one of their kind passes. Although they do not show emotions as freely as dogs, they nonetheless register grief in other, more subtle ways. I have a seven-foot tall cat tree whose top tier that is a prized perch. After Muffin passed in January 2013, over six months passed before another cat, Frisky, dared ascend its lofty heights to command the view. Likewise, when Frisky passed away in October 2016, the other cats again avoided the top perch for a couple months.  
Arthur (left) also bonded with my shy orange tabby Annie, Fall 2016.
Finally, in late February 2017, I got Arthur fixed. While I thought he was perhaps three to four years old, the vet said Arthur was over five years old – like Wellington. For an outside cat, whose life span is relatively short, he was an old man. His breathe stunk, his teeth needed to be pulled, and his fur had started to mat, likely because he wasn't cleaning himself often enough. I also discovered that he was FIV positive, just like Wellington. Since Wellington’s death, new research confirms what my vet said — as long as the cat is not aggressive there is no more a chance of another cat getting FIV than say with HIV between humans.
 
In all this time, I had never heard Arthur meow — hiss, yes, but not meow. Nevertheless, when we picked him up from the vet he called out to us with a sad mew. A painful and confusing experience, he probably didn’t think we would come back for him.
Arthur in a quiet moment.
After getting Arthur fixed, his behavior began to change. He stayed in the basement and would not come upstairs. He ate less and seemed more skittish, avoiding even the gentle touch of my petite housemate Kim. One Saturday night, Kim and I tried to chase him upstairs, but Arthur proved to be a slippery customer. Not wanting to stress him out too much, we eventually left him alone. Late, the next morning, I discovered a pool of urine next to the litter box in the basement. This was uncharacteristic for Arthur as he was fastidious in his habits. Finding no trace of him, Kim and I searched until we found his body under the folding table next to the washing machine. The only thing I could think of is that our chasing him around must have scared him — perhaps thinking we were going to take him to the vet again — and caused a heart attack, during which he voided his bowels next to the litter box before finding refuge under the table. It was heart-breaking, and I feel the guilt of having been an instrument in the death of two related cats.
 
After Arthur
Ditto, Silver, and Gracie
After Arthur passed, we closed up the basement door and for three days neither Kim nor I ventured downstairs. We even kept the cats upstairs. Gracie and her kittens, Ditto and Silver, anxiously looked around the house, I supposed looking for Arthur. When we finally opened up the basement door, Gracie and the kittens were the first ones down and they immediately zeroed in on the folding table. Silver sniffed around a bit, lowered his rear end, and promptly peed on the spot where Arthur died. I almost didn’t have the heart to clean it up. I had his remains cremated, some of which I buried in the backyard where, I suspect, he always belonged.

Arthur's bed and blanket, Aug. 30, 2017.
Still untouched by the other cats six months after his death.
In the six months since Arthur passed, no other of my very many cats have yet ventured into his large crate in the basement — not even the kittens. I left Arthur’s blanket in the crate unwashed. Perhaps his scent still lingers, even after all this time. Both Kim and I are home much of the time now, so we would have noticed if anyone has been going in. As of this writing, Arthur’s dog-crate refuge remains untouched, as though all the cats are awaiting his return, or honoring his absence.

I know better, but I still haven’t yet washed that old blanket of his. I likely never will.
Arthur's last photo, after his passing, March 5, 2017.

Monday, July 31, 2017

In Search of…The Dark Star

by G. Jack Urso
From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube Channel

Click on the image above to view the episode

In Search of…The Dark Star, is a 1979 episode of the classic documentary series that features the Dogon, a small African tribe, and explores the question how they discovered the location of a “dark star” unseen from Earth with naked eye. Is this just a coincidence, evidence of lost knowledge and technology, or proof that aliens once visited the planet Earth?

The Dogon are an agricultural people residing in the nations of Burkina Faso and Mali in Central Africa, having emigrated from the west bank of the Niger River during the 10th to 13th Centuries. In approximately 1490, the Dogon were driven to the Bandiagara cliffs region to avoid Mossi kingdom horsemen, displacing or absorbing the original inhabitants. (“Kuba”). 


What is extraordinary about the Dogon is the claim that their oral traditions also include tales of an invisible star and its orbit from which visitors, known as the nummo, came to share their knowledge with them. Alien astronaut theorists have jumped on this claim as proof of visitors from another planet.
 
A Dogon village elder
The Dogon use a digeridoo-type musical instrument, recreating the “voice” of the star, for calling together those who are learning the oral traditions from the elders. This ritual has been going on for hundreds of years, perhaps back to the time of their finding refuge in this region in the late 15th Century. Astronomical information, such as Saturn, only seen with a telescope, or Jupiter and several of its moons, is relayed in the gathering. More mysterious, however, is the tale of a sacred star invisible to the naked eye from where mysterious beings came to share their knowledge with the Dogon. This tale reportedly goes back hundreds of years to the time of their diaspora to the Bandiagara cliffs.
 
French anthropologists Marcel Griaule and Germain Dieterlen first learned about the tale of the invisible sacred star during their work with the Dogon in the 1930s and 1940s (“Sirius”). The Dogan star, Sirius B, was later confirmed to exist in 1950 using an advanced telescope, and right where the Dogon said it would be. The Dogon’s sigui dance ritual takes place every 60 years — identical to the orbit of Sirius B — and includes wide circling movements by the dancers [note: some sources say this is a 50-year cycle].
                    Dogon Drawing of the Dark Star's Orbit         Sirius B Orbit Computer Simulation
Images from the In Search of... episode, "The Dark Star" (1979)

Is this evidence of alien visitation? Lost knowledge and technology? The Dogon originally fled from a region controlled by Timbuktu in Mali, not far from the Niger River. A center of trade and political power at the time the Dogon fled the area, one could speculate that the Dogon’s oral traditions preserve lost African or Arabic knowledge acquired at Timbuktu. Some European knowledge could also have been mixed in over the years, and one cannot dismiss bad translations and cultural misunderstandings.
 
The big mystery, however, regards the origins of the sigui ritual which emulates the orbit of Sirius B and marks when the star and Earth are closest to each other. How the Dogon could have identified a star invisible to the naked eye is a mystery. It is quite possibly a coincidence considering that the odds of a star being located in any direction we point is pretty high.

Carl Sagan himself addressed the question of the Dogon's dark star and their acquisition of knowledge. In his book Broca's Brain, Sagan claims that accurate conjecture about planetary orbits, while uncommon, is not beyond the capabilities of pre-modern technology civilizations. Further, Robert Burnham, who wrote Burnham's Celestial Handbook, claims Sirius B can be seen on a clear night sky with a 10-inch reflecting telescope (“Sirius”). This leaves open the possibility that Sirius B may have been discovered by a civilization more advanced than the Dogon, but decidedly Earth-bound, and one which had knowledge of telescopic lens. This, I think, is more likely and more remarkable than a deus ex machina explanation of an alien visitation.
 
Even so, this is a hypothesis, not proof, and it’s a mystery whose answer is still worth going in search of… 



Works Cited

 “Kuba.” Art & Life in Africa, n.d.  https://africa.uima.uiowa.edu/
               peoples/show/Kuba.
 
“Sirius Matters: Alien Contact.” Chandra Chronicles, 28 Nov. 2000.
               http://chandra.harvard.edu/chronicle/0400/
               sirius_part2.html.
 

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Secret Origins of Jonny Quest

by G. Jack Urso
 

First Rick Brant adventure
Author's collection.
Jonny Quest, the classic Hanna-Barbara cartoon that ran from 1964-1965, detailed the adventures of a young boy, his famous scientist father Dr. Benton Quest, their dog Bandit, Jonny’s Indian friend Hadji, and their bodyguard, secret agent Race Bannon. Together, they operated from Palm Key, a secret island base off the East Coast of America. The show’s main influence is generally well-known to have been Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. Jack Armstrong was a popular long-running radio show from 1933 to 1951. Jack traveled the world having adventures with his best friend Billy, Billy’s sister Betty, and their Uncle Jim, an industrialist. Jonny Quest was in fact intended to be a Jack Armstrong cartoon, as evident in the test footage used in the show's closing credits. The concept was later scrapped, presumably due to the complications and cost in obtaining the needed copyrights, and Jonny Quest was born. The connection to Jack Armstrong, however, was obvious from the start. I can remember my father making the observation while watching the show together in the late 1960s. 
Nevertheless, there is another, more direct, influence on Jonny Quest that has received less attention. From 1947 to 1968, Grosset & Dunlap published Rick Brant's Electronic Adventures, a series about a young boy, Rick Brant, who used science and technology to battle his antagonists (a single limited edition volume was also published in 1990). Joining Rick was his father, famous scientist Dr. Hartson Brant; Dismal (or "Diz"), their dog; Rick’s Hindu friend from India, Chahda; and his ex-marine pal, and sometimes bodyguard, Scotty. Together, along with Rick's sister Barby and her best friend Jan, secret agent Steve Ames, and a supporting cast of scientific specialists, they operated from Spindrift Island, their secret base off the East Coast of America.

Is this beginning to sound familiar?

Even more than with Jack Armstrong, here we see all the essential elements of Jonny Quest: an adventurous boy, his scientist father, their dog, his best friend from India, his bodyguard, and an island base. While one could argue that all cartoons about the adventures of a globe-trotting boy will contain certain basic similarities, there are just too many here. If Hanna-Barbara abandoned the Jack Armstrong concept due to potential costly copyrights, why did they settle on an alternative with so many parallels? There is no report about Hanna-Barbara purchasing the rights, or settling with the publishers Grosset & Dunlap. One is left to wonder whether the matter was handled quietly or if Grosset & Dunlap just never pursued it.
The Quest Compound on Palm Key
The Brant Compound on Spindrift Island
Comparing images of the islands show some basic similarities with a runway and lab compound. The high-tech “Submobile” used in the first Rick Brant adventure, 100 Fathoms Under (1947), looks as though it directly influenced the Quest sea-floor crawler used in the 1965 episode "Pirates From Below." Steve Ames works for "JANIG," the Joint Army-Navy Intelligence Group, while Race Bannon works for "Intelligence One," a CIA-type organization. Other similarities can be found, and there are enough to suggest that at the very least there are some potential copyright violations by Hanna-Barbara that go beyond borrowing and adapting a concept.

The Rick Brant adventures were much like the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew series in that the protagonists were young people, some kind of mystery drove the plot, and action and adventure ensued. Rick Brant author Harold L. Goodwin, with co-author Peter J. Harkins on the first three novels, created a compelling model that appealed to the post-war faith in science and technology. The Rick Brant adventures also included two teen girls as part of the regular supporting cast. This was unlike the original Jonny Quest series whose only female character was Jezebel Jade, a mercenary who helped the Quests in two original episodes, which gave little for young female fans to follow. Admittedly, however, both series had essentially male-centric formats.

The truth between the obvious influences of the Rick Brant adventures on Jonny Quest may never be known. Both properties though do provide us with a glimpse at the aspirations of the post-World War II generation. Despite the devastation and horror of the war, the belief in something better prevailed. Science and technology could be used in non-violent ways to advance knowledge, friendships could transcend religion, and even teenagers had something to contribute in making the world a safer place.

That’s still a pretty good idea.  


Related Content on Aeolus 13 Umbra

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Superman: The Fleischer/Famous Studios Cartoons (1941-1943)

by G. Jack Urso
 

The Fleischer Superman
In 1941, a scant three years after the introduction of Superman in 1938, animation producers Max and Dave Fleischer were approached by Paramount Studios to create a series of cartoons based on the new superhero. The results were breathtaking. Although the Fleischers were hesitant to take the project, they treated the topic seriously and used state-of-art techniques and technology to bring this quintessential American character to life. A total of 17 episodes were eventually produced.

One innovation the Fleischers introduced is Superman’s ability to fly. Prior to the cartoons, Superman traveled by leaping, as in “Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!” After initial animation tests, however, the scenes of Superman leaping lacked the fluid motion the Fleischers sought. More frankly, they thought it looked “silly.” After consultation with DC Comics, Superman began to fly both on the screen and in the comics.

Max Fleischer invented rotoscoping, the process in which animation is applied over live-action film footage to create more natural movement. For the Superman cartoons, the Fleischers employed this technique and over 600 artists and technical personnel to bring the comic book superhero to life. No attention to detail was spared. The black shield on Superman's chest draws the eye to the character.  Art Deco accents and the use of shadows to emulate film noir lighting give a cinematic feel to the shorts. Brilliant special effects create electricity, lightning, and fire to heighten the sense of danger. The overall production design influenced the look of the critically acclaimed 1990s Superman: The Animated Series.

Following the first nine shorts, a falling out between the brothers led to the creation of Famous Studios with many of the same animators. The Fleischer Studio shorts, completed by the end of 1941, had mad scientists, robots, dinosaurs, earthquakes, meteors, and volcanos – the stock and trade of the classic Man of Steel. Famous Studios, however, in the wake of Pearl Harbor and the U.S. involvement in World War II, introduced plots with Japanese saboteurs and Nazi spies. Here we begin to see the shift of Superman from a brightly costumed super-powered pulp hero to an All-American icon. Nevertheless, one cannot mistake a hint of racism in the title of the episode “Japoteurs.” On many levels, these animated shorts typify the era.   

What I love about these cartoons is not just the animation, which retains its beauty nearly eight decades later, but also how they show America in the twilight of the Machine Age, that period of time between the 1880s and 1945. We built big, from the Empire State Building to the Hoover Dam, and had cautionary tragedies from the Titanic to the Hindenburg that tested our moral and technological limits. In many respects, these cartoons embody the zeitgeist of the times and give us a unique look at America at a critical time in our history.  Click on the links below to see all 17 episodes on the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel!
 


From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube Channel
 

 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Lord of the Flies (1963)

by G. Jack Urso
 

Lord of the Flies is a 1963 film based on the 1954 novel of the same name by William Golding about a group of English school boys who are stranded on a desert island after a nuclear war breaks out. The film, directed by Peter Brook, was seen by millions of Baby Boomers in high school English classes who would then practice “duck and cover” drills in case of a very real nuclear war –  ritualistically rehearsing their own impending deaths.

The plot for Lord of the Flies is widely published, but, in brief, the boys find themselves on the island after their plane crashes. No adults survive and the boys quickly divide into two groups: one led by Ralph, a believer in democracy, and the other by Jack, the anarchic leader of the school’s choir. Ralph wants to return to civilization while Jack and his followers quickly descend into violent, uncivilized behavior. The resulting clash becomes an allegory for the Cold War world of the 1950s and 1960s. Standing on the brink of nuclear war, we vacillated between giving into our baser instincts and descending into violent conflicts or listening to the better angels of our nature and working together for the common good. This conflict created a social mass psychosis and we personified our fears until they commanded us like the proverbial Lord of the Flies – the shadow of which still haunts us.

One important image in the film is the bonfire; it represents the boys' desire to return to civilization. As events unfold, and the boys descend into anarchy, the fire becomes unattended and goes out and the chance for rescue by a passing ship is missed. The lesson is clear, as we give into our baser instincts, civilization slips further and further away.

The lessons from the novel and the excellent film are as relevant today as they were in 1954 or 1963 – if not even more so. America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia are all in throes of violently bitter partisan politics. Many nations are seeing nationalist political movements rising up that threaten the advancement of civilization, and limit or turn back progress on societal and scientific development. The fire of civilization is going out all over the world, and fewer and fewer people think it is worth keeping lit. 
 

From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube Channel



 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Battle of the Little Bighorn Video Library


by G. Jack Urso

Long load time due to multiple video previews.
Since childhood, the Battle of the Little Bighorn has fascinated me. Few incidents so capture the character and turbulent history of late 19th Century America as this singular event.  George Armstrong Custer was a more complicated figure than the two-dimensional hero or villain he has been made out to be. Before West Point, he taught elementary school. Once securing his appointment to the vaunted military academy, Custer did just about everything he could do to land at the bottom of his class. Despite graduating a year early because of the war, Custer nearly missed the First Battle of Bull Run after being court martialed for allowing a fight between cadets to take place on his watch as Officer of the Guard. When offered the choice between the safer route of training soldiers or the more dangerous one of fighting, Custer opted to fight.


While Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his Maine regiment get most of the glory for saving the Union at the Battle of Gettysburg, Custer arguably deserves a very large portion of the credit. Leading his Michigan regiments against J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry, Custer stopped the column before an attack on the Union’s rear lines which would have collapsed the Union army had it succeeded – and despite Chamberlain’s success on Little Round Top. Had the Union Army been routed that day the war would have certainly been lost. Few in our nation's history can be said to have very literally saved it, and Custer is one of those few.

Although he was wounded in the foot at the Battle of Culpeper Court House, Custer generally avoided serious injury during the Civil War – "Custer's Luck," as it was called. Nevertheless, he did not walk away from the conflict entirely unscathed. Custer developed a stammer and a compulsive hand-washing habit – perhaps symptomatic of post-traumatic stress having fought for four years and having been burdened with so much responsibility at so young an age as 23.

Custer was a mass of contradictions regarding race. Though against the institution of slavery, and reportedly having had sexual relations with his female black cook, he wrote in October 1865 that, regarding giving the African-American the right to vote, “I would as soon think of elevating an Indian chief to the popedom of Rome.”

While promoted to major general of volunteers during the Civil War, by the end of the conflict Custer was still just a captain in the regular army. He turned down a promotion to colonel of the African-American 10th Cavalry regiment in favor of being the lieutenant colonel of the all-white 7th Cavalry. Custer’s desire was for battle, and he was convinced African-American regiments would not be on the front-lines and therefore his long-term chances for promotion diminished. That being said, other white officers openly embraced the opportunity to serve with and lead the 10th, including First Lieutenant, later General, John J. Pershing, from 1895 – 1897, so one cannot entirely dismiss the charge of racism from Custer's response.

Custer acknowledged a sympathy towards the plight of the Native American, and, indeed, stated that if he were an Indian he would be out living free on the plains rather than on a reservation. Additionally, he had a Cheyanne mistress, Me-o-tzi, and also protested the Indian Agents’ treatment of the natives under their charge; nevertheless, when the opportunity came to advance his career by attacking settlements full of women, children, and the elderly (as at Washita and the Little Bighorn), Custer did not hesitate.

Having visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield myself, I was struck by how remote it is – nearly as much it was in 1876. It was a long way to go to be brutally cut down by people justifiably defending their families and way of life. What Custer realized about the truth of his life in those final moments will never be revealed, but he faced his karma and met it head on. Still, as Sitting Bull commented, “Custer was a fool and rode to his death.” Between those two extremes we find the character of the man, and the nation. May our country live long enough to avoid both fates.

The videos below from my personal archives provide a broad review of various aspects of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Tracking down these films required no small amount of time, effort, and money. Some of these films had never before been made publically available before being posted to the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel. In my research on the battle I looked at a lot of videos and these are among the most compelling. For more related content on Aeolus 13 Umbra, please visit my historical essay, The Mystery of the Little Bighorn Battlefield (with original battlefield photographs). 



From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube Channel

Custer’s Last Fight (1912), New York Motion Picture Company. Silent Film, 43 minutes (VHS). Directed by Thomas Ince and starring Francis Ford, legendary director John Ford’s older brother, stars as George Armstrong Custer. The New York Motion Picture Company claimed Natives Americans who fought at the Little Bighorn appear in the film. The budget was US$30,000, approximately US$738,190 in 2017, which was the largest to have been spent on a movie at that time.


Red Sunday (1976), produced by the Montana and North Dakota historical societies' Bicentennial commissions. Documentary, 30 minutes (VHS): I viewed a lot of documentaries about the Battle of the Little Bighorn during my research, and this is among the best. The combination of the writing, editing, use of film, and John McIntyre's compelling narration combine for a dramatic and powerful effect in this production.


The Court Martial of George Armstrong Custer (1977), NBC. TV movie, 95 minutes (VHS): Starring Brian Keith, Ken Howard, Blythe Danner, James Olson, William Daniels, and Anthony Zerbe. What if Custer had lived? This question forms the basis of this compelling production. This is a particularly personal film for me as I recall watching it in 1977 as a 12-year old boy with my father who explained it to me as I watched – and launched a lifetime of interest in the battle. The video quality is not great, but the "what if" premise and a fantastic cast makes it worth a visit for those interested in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.


History Recovered: The Custer Battlefield Archeological Survey of 1984 (1985), Webster Productions. Documentary, 58 minutes (VHS): Video companion to the book, Archeological Insights Into The Custer Battle: An Assessment of the 1984 Field Season (1987). Narrated by Dick Cavett. In 1983, a fire swept through the Little Bighorn Battlefield burning off a century of vegetation and offering an opportunity for the best look at artifacts up to that time.


Dreams Along the Little Bighorn (1987), KUED Salt Lake City. Documentary, 58 minutes (VHS): This PBS film profiles lesser known participants in the battle, such as reporter Mark Kellogg, and interviews with descendants of Native participants in the battle, including Joe Medicine Crow, grandson of White-Man-Runs-Him, a Crow scout present at the battle with the 7th Calvary.  This documentary provides more intimate details of the participants.

 
A Good Day to Die (1988), John S. Gray with Robert Utley. Old Army Press. Documentary, 57 minutes (VHS): This independent production provides cultural and social context to the battle. While providing an excellent graphical analysis of the battle itself, the film also hauntingly captures the mystery and tragedy of the event.

Songs of the Seventh Calvary (1989), released by The Bismarck Tribune for the benefit of the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation. Album, 34 minutes (CD). These classic 19th Century songs were sung by the Seventh Cavalry during the Custer era, including some, such as Little Footsteps, sung to Custer on the eve of the Little Bighorn battle. The complete playlist features When Johnny Comes Marching Home, The Girl I Left Behind, Shenandoah-Across the Wide Missouri, Soldier’s Joy, Good-bye at the Door, Arkansas Traveler, Gary Owen, The Dreary Black Hills, Civil War Medley, Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, Little Footsteps, and Annie Laurie. Click on link above for full article. 

Custer’s Last Trooper (1990), Bill Armstrong Productions. Documentary, 48 Minutes (VHS). An archeological dig uncovers a 7th Cavalryman’s skull, and scientists, using modern forensic techniques, recreate his face. I caught this when it was first broadcast on the Arts & Entertainment Channel (A&E) in late January 1990. After high school, college, and striking out on my own, I had almost forgotten about my youthful interest in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but within an hour it was rekindled with a passion. By May 1, I journeyed across America to the battlefield.  



Son of the Morning Star (1991), ABC. TV movie, 180 minutes (VHS). Based on Evan S. Connell’s 1984 book of the same name. Stars Gary Cole, Rosanna Arquette, Rodney A. Grant, David Strathairn, Dean Stockwell, and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Attention to detail and accuracy mark this production. Cole turns in a surprisingly good performance as Custer – capturing his ambition, intensity, and impetuosity, if not necessarily his charisma. Originally broadcast as a two-part miniseries, it is presented here as a single film.