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The Cow Who Caused Custer's Last Stand

Because of a cow, Sitting Bull defeated Custer at the battle of Little Big Horn. 

This is the true story of the cow who started a war. In the days of the Oregon Trail, one homesteader's cow became separated from her wagon train and wandered into a Sioux camp. Losing a cow was a catastrophic event for a family of 19th century settlers. 

Today, you can buy a herd of 20 cows for the same cost as a brand new family mini-van. In those days, your prairie schooner (covered wagon) cost exactly the same as the family cow, about $70. Rice, beans, and dried fruit could be had for just 6 cents per pound. Flour cost only 2 cents per pound. A rifle was $15. 

At that time during America's history, there were few lawyers or activists in the Old West, so the Sioux didn't sue nor declare war. They might have even returned this funny looking animal, if only the settlers had asked. Instead, the pioneers went to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, where they reported their lost cow as a theft. They blamed the Native Americans. 

One very eager West Point graduate, Lt. John Grattan, assembled 29 soldiers and then set out to punish the Indians who by that time had barbecued the unfortunate animal. The chief offered the soldiers a horse in trade for the cow, but Grattan's response was to open fire. He killed the chief, and the Sioux fired back killing 
21 soldiers. Shortly thereafter, 650 soldiers returned to massacre 85 Sioux men, women, and children. The year was 1855. The result was years of hostilities by both sides. All because of one wandering cow. 

The war between the Sioux nation and the United States lasted for two decades. The Sioux joined the Cheyenne in Montana, and were led by Sitting Bull who inspired them to small victories over the US Cavalry. Army troops commanded by General George Custer, wanted to end things in the summer of 1875, and planned a final campaign that backfired into his famous "Last Stand." 

The battle of Little Big Horn was a devastating loss for America and a great Indian victory. Within a year, the Sioux nation would be crushed. 

One hundred and forty-eight years ago when America was young, and when settlers sought a better way of life in California, the dairy cow that started the Indian wars would have yielded just one quart of milk each day. That hardly produced enough mozzarella cheese to melt atop even one slice of pizza for a hungry cowboy or cowgirl. 

There were many wagon train expeditions that never made it through the Rocky Mountains, due to a number of hardships, more often than not a combination of severe weather and too little food. 

Shortly after Custer's Last Stand, another group of settlers became lost and their stores of food ran low. They had been traveling through rough country, and they had seen no evidence of human life for nearly a week. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, they came upon an old Jewish man sitting beneath a tree. 

The leader galloped his horse over to the man and asked, "We're lost and running out of food. Is there someplace around here where we can get something to eat?" 

"Vell," the old Jew said, "I vouldn't go up dat hill und down other side. You'll run into a big bacon tree." 

"A bacon tree?" asked the incredulous wagon train leader. 

"Yah, ah bacon tree. I vudn't lie." 

The expedition guide rode off on his horse and related his conversation to the other settlers. He told them that they might be able to find food on the other side of the next ridge. One settler wasn't so sure. 

"Then why did he warn you not to go there?" the pioneer asked. 

"Oh, you know those Jews - they don't eat pigs." 

Despite reservations, starvation won over precaution, and the wagon train did go up the hill and down the other side. Suddenly, Indians attacked and massacred everybody except the leader, who managed to escape back to the old man. 

The near-dead cowboy, arrows protruding from his body, crawled up to the Jew and grabbed him by the leg. With great difficulty, he spoke, "You fool! You sent us to our deaths! We followed your instructions, but there was no bacon tree. Just hundreds of Indians, who massacred everyone." 

The Jew held up his hand to his face and cried "Oy vey, vait a zecond." He then got out an English-Yiddish dictionary and began thumbing through it. "Oh, no, vat have I done? It vuz not a bacon tree, it vuz...a ham-bush! 

Robert Cohen

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