McClurg Jam

McClurg Jam

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Garry Owen

As I continue on this semi martial thread of thought, I would like to discuss Garry Owen and the Seventh Cavalry.
As you may know, Garry Owen was an Irish tune that was the favorite of the infamous Seventh Cavalry of the Little Big Horn Battle fame. Custer himself counted it one of his favorites.
This is not to say that this reflected a demographic of the Cav as being mostly Irish because this was not the case. But, a good song is a good song regardless of it's ethnic origins.
You will remember that this song featured prominently in the movie, "We were Soldiers" with Mel Gibson. They used a very celtic version for dramatic effect and it was quite effective.

I am reading yet another book on the Battle of The Little Big Horn and the Seventh Cav and Custer. I caught this historical interest over twenty years ago and am still fascinated by the story.

Part of the reason is that my Grandfather served briefly with the Eighth Cavalry in Texas during the Pancho Villa expedition. He signed up as a sixteen year old kid lying about his age. He was a fairly small lad at that and after about three or four months they found him out and thankfully sent him home.

I have the photos of him there in Texas in the Alpine Tx area in camp and have his Campaign hat as well. Had he remained in service then, Villa's wolves would have devoured him had they ever met in battle. Of course I suppose he might have surprised us all but I rather doubt it.

So, my Grandfather was briefly a Cavalryman. One of the last. In the West too!

On my wall I have what is actually a deflated pillow with a photograph of the Eighth Cav in mounted formation riding in dramatic fashion. It can appear to look like a flag but it actually is a pillow. It's framed and can give a good impression. It's on my wall upstairs in my office.

I grew up admiring this and then in time came to possess it.

As for the song, it has nothing to do with the American west and the military here originally. Now it is preserved in our memory with those connotations.

Here are a couple versions of it. I will try to learn the guitar version shown off the Youtube. Wish me well on that.

It's actually a fine little song. We should try it in our jam sometime after I learn it.





When the Seventh Cavalry rode out of the post for it's destiny with the Sioux and Cheyenne people on the Little Big Horn the regimental band was playing this tune at length. It was not a routine expedition. They expected this to be the last big fight with the Indians and no more would follow. This was to be, they thought, the final battle and then they would rest in glory afterwards with book deals and lecture tours for the General and Tap room revelry's of personal heroism for the more humble enlisted. They rode out in great confidence that the Sioux and Cheyenne were no match for them in pitched battle. There was some truth to this as they had never suffered loss in direct battle with an Indian combatant unless they had been completely overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers like at the Ft Fetterman Massacre. They knew they were facing a lot of Indians too.

Perhaps not as many as they actually found.

A couple of points I want to make.
1. Custer should have been discharged from the Army several times for gross dereliction of duty and ought not to have been in Command on that day.
2. Custer was a very effective combat commander and certainly the most aggressive available and in some measure, the best man for the job.
3. Custer barely made it to the campaign due to his testimony against the corrupt Grant administrations dealings with the Indians on the Reservations. He actually had a greal deal of empathy for them.
Contradictions are apparent here. This is the case for Geo. Custer. A walking contradiction. Worthy of our admiration and condemnation all at the same time!


  1. Gary, great post. I love history, esp. family history. Well done.

  2. Thanks Martin! Your kind comments are much appreciated.


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