CUSTER! A Musical

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
CUSTER! is a new musical based on facts surrounding the Battle of Little Bighorn and the legacy of General Custer and the Sioux Indians.

Submitted: April 20, 2013

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Submitted: April 20, 2013

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CUSTER!

 

by

Dale Newman

And

Thom Goddard

 

 

Dale NewmanThom Goddard

T: 01903 367190 T: 01371 879122

11 Old Mill Drive, RH20 4NHWhite Horses, CM6 1NS

 

 

Characters

 

GENERAL GEORGE ARMSTRONG CUSTER - Highly decorated veteran of the American Civil War, the 37 year old was a brave, experienced warrior. Although he led the expedition that discovered gold in the Black Hills in 1872, the disastrous Battle of the Little Bighorn would be his legacy. 

 

LIEUTENANT FREDERICK ‘FRANK’ CALHOUN - Called the ‘Adonis of the Army’, the 27 year old was well educated from a rich family but an unsuccessful soldier. 

 

THASUNJKE WITKO / CRAZY HORSE - The 33 year old Chief of the Oglala Sioux was a keen fighter, advocating war with the white man. Was essentially the General of the Sioux at Little Bighorn.

 

THATHANKA IYOTAKA / SITTING BULL - The 44 year old medicine man of the Hunkpapa Sioux became de facto ‘Supreme Chief of the Sioux Nation’ in 1867 in their fight against the white man.

 

WINONA / FIRST BORN DAUGHTER - Adopted 26 year old daughter of Sitting Bull and his third wife Seen-By-Her-Nation.

 

COMMANDER JAMES CALHOUN - Fred’s older brother and Custer’s brother-in-law. The 31 year old was also well educated, loved the Army life and was a fanatical Indian killer. He died at Little Bighorn.

 

MAHPIYA LUTA / RED CLOUD - The old chief of the Oglala Sioux had won crucial battles over the US Army in the 1860s but since advocated peace. 

 

BLOODY KNIFE - Born a Hunkpapa Sioux, he left the tribe due to bullying and became Custer’s chief scout. He died at Little Bighorn age 35 years old. 

 

SERGEANT WILLIAM CARNEY - Seasoned veteran of the American Civil War and the Indian wars. The 40 year old black man was the first recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honour and knows plenty of war stories with the scars to prove he was there.

 

MO-NAH-SE-TAH - Widow of Cheyenne Chief Little Rock, the 26 year old was an outcast because she had a child out of wedlock. With General Custer.

 

YELLOW BIRD - Mo-Nah-Se-Tah and General Custer’s child with golden hair.

 

 

 

 

SETTING

 

Act 1 and Act 2 are set in the Mid-West plains of Montana, close to the Black Hills. 

 

 

TIME

 

The year is 1876.

 

Global context: 

John Hopkins University founded, Alexander Graham Bell makes the first phone call, internal combustion engine invented by Nikolas Otto and ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ by Mark Twain is published.

 

 

 

ACT I

 

Scene 1 - Battle of the Little Bighorn

 

Scene 2 - US Cavalry Camp, ‘Fort Kearny’

 

Scene 3 - Native American camp

 

Scene 4 - Gun Detail bivouac

 

 

INTERVAL

 

 

ACT II

 

Scene 1 - Across the plains of the Mid-West 

 

Scene 2 - US Cavalry Camp, ‘Fort Kearny’

 

Scene 3 - Native American camp

 

 

 

ACT 1

 

SCENE 1

 

The stage is black and empty. There is silence.

The full moon rises in the back of set. The moon is

 a burnishing gold but does not illuminate the stage.

 

A Native American drum begins to thump.

The beats grow in intensity, noise and frequency.

The beat is slowly joined by another, at first untraceable, sound.

This sound grows in volume to be unmistakable as horses hooves.

The horses hooves become harmonized with the 

Native American drumming.

This collective beat grows until it is thundering.

 

The stage explodes in flashing lights, smoke and people fighting.

This is the BATTLE OF THE LITTLE BIGHORN. 

The set is the open plains of the Mid-Western USA.

The back drop is the Black Hills of South Dakota.

A quarter of the people on stage are US Cavalry.

Three quarters of the people on stage are Native Americans.

Both groups are in battle dress.

Only two figures are clearly identifiable - Crazy Horse in

his feathered war headdress and General Custer with long,

 blonde hair and white stetson hat.

Both groups have guns but the Cavalry have sabres and

the Native Americans have tomahawk hatchets.  

 

The US Cavalry become surrounded in the centre of the stage.

While the intensity of the battle doesn’t diminish, 

more and more US Cavalry soldiers are killed.

Until General Custer is stood alone amid the pile of bodies.

 

Crazy Horse stands at one side of the stage.

Crazy Horse raises his tomahawk, screams a war cry

 and runs at General Custer.

 

Crescendo of drumming, horses hooves, 

gun fire and the screams of battle.

Then silence.

 

 

The stage is black except for the golden moon.

The moon shimmers and becomes a film.

 

A spotlight appears on General Custer.

 

TRACK 1: GUN OVERTURE

 

General Custer speaks to the audience 

while the film plays his life history.

 

History will remember me

Not just for what I was,

But for what I did.

As if I alone created the myth.

 

You must understand

Much like you, I felt love once

But that’s a different story.

Everything was different then

It was summer in what the Lakotas called Paha Sapa that day

The dust rose quietly from a broken troop.

 

The film shows George Custer joining the US Army.

Custer is given his iconic, white hat by his white wife, Elizabeth.

Custer leads a heroic cavalry charge at the Battle of Gettysburg

and he is promoted to General, the youngest in US Army history.

 

The Black Hills rose like fortresses

In the western sky,

And the cries heard thereafter

Faded with the reality of the morning.

 

The film continues by showing clouds 

on the horizon of the great plains.

The clouds become the Black Hills, 

the home of the Native American Sioux.

 

On stage General Custer is ominously joined

  on stage by a Gatling gun on cart wheels.

 

Something had happened.

 

Blackout

 

 

ACT 1

 

SCENE 2

 

The moon has become the sun.

It rises, revealing a United States Army fort at midday. 

There is a lot of commotion, a sense that battle is near.

Crowds of men clean their guns and sharpen their knives.

 

At the front, stage right, stands a group looking at photos.

There are two white officers, a black sergeant and a

Native American who are talking and laughing.

General Custer enters stage left.

The fort becomes noticeably quieter. 

 

The General surveys the fort and smiles.

He is content with his men’s preparations.

He points to one of the officers and motions him to come.

 

The officer leaves the group and 

joins the General in the middle of the stage.

The group look on with avid interest.

The hustle and bustle of the fort returns

as the men know their General is happy.

 

The General speaks to the officer 

who nods in agreement.

The General waves the officer away and 

the General moves rear stage right.

The General stands on a wagon, 

triumphantly looking over his troops.

 

The officer rejoins the group at the front of the stage.

The group wait for the officer to speak.

 

 

LT CALHOUN  Well? What did he say?

 

SGT CARNEY  Jeez, don’t leave us like this.

 

CM CALHOUN  pauses  He’s happy...

 

SGT CARNEY  hits the Lt in the arm  See, I told you...

 

 

CM CALHOUN  to Sgt Carney  Oh no, not with you.  to Lt Calhoun  Or you, little brother. Bloody Knife  points  and I have done what the General has ordered. Our fort  he points around  is efficient and effective. My troops have been here 3 days and are ‘ready’. We are ready to use this base to fight the Indian threat. Soon we can go out and kill them all.

 

Bloody Knife looks uncomfortable. 

 

 

SGT CARNEY  Wha... but we been...

 

LT CALHOUN  cutting in  Did he mention us specifically?

 

CM CALHOUN  No, you are lucky. There is a supply train even further behind than you are. But you’d better catch up quick. The General doesn’t take laziness lightly.

 

SGT CARNEY  raising his voice  Laziness? Why Commander we been workin’ our butts off...

 

LT CALHOUN  Alright Sergeant.  to the Commander  James, the Sergeant is right. We have been working all the hours God sends us to move that gatling gun over this wasteland. Through swamps, over rivers, mountains and the back of beyond! 

 

CM CALHOUN  I don’t want to hear your excuses, little brother. 

 

LT CALHOUN  I’m not giving you excuses. You move too quickly. Three days you’ve been here. And now you’re talking of moving out? Most of your supplies haven’t arrived...

 

CM CALHOUN  Our job is not to question our leader.

 

LT CALHOUN  ignoring him  And you must wait for our artillery. 

 

CM CALHOUN  Hmph, we’re the 7th Cavalry. We don’t need a machine to do our fighting for us.

 

LT CALHOUN  The gatling gun will change the face of war. No more hand-to-hand fighting. We don’t need to see the ‘whites of their eyes’. We don’t need to slaughter hundreds of our own men to kill hundreds of the enemy. Going into battle without it is madness.

 

CM CALHOUN  he speaks in reverence pointing to General Custer  The General expects...

SGT CARNEY  ...the impossible. 

 

General Custer exits.

 

 

CM CALHOUN  General Custer expects you to do your jobs.

 

LT CALHOUN  Your so-called General needs to wait for us. For the last 7 weeks my gun detail of 6 men has been dragging, lifting and moving a half-ton gun through the worst country imaginable. If only you’d slow down.

 

CM CALHOUN  What did you say?

 

LT CALHOUN   We are not too slow - you’re going to fast.

 

CM CALHOUN  No! The other thing...

 

LT CALHOUN  I’m not attacking your precious, so-called General.

 

CM CALHOUN  louder  What did you say?

 

LT CALHOUN  Brother, I don’t want to fight with you any more.

 

CM CALHOUN  General Custer is a General.

 

LT CALHOUN  patronising  Not according to the US Army, he ain’t.

 

Commander Calhoun becomes angry.

 

 

LT CALHOUN  he grabs Sgt Carney  This is my Sergeant. he grabs Bloody Knife  This is our chief scout. he flicks Cm Calhoun’s shoulder epaulets  You are my Commander and I am your Lieutenant. he points to where Custer was standing  And that is a United States Army Lieutenant Colonel.

 

CM CALHOUN  Why you son of a b...

 

The Commander launches himself at the Lieutenant and they fight.

After a short amount of time the Sergeant grabs the Lieutenant 

and Bloody Knife holds the Commander.

 

 

CM CALHOUN  shouting  He is my General... and yours. He’s ten times you, ‘Brother’. Your superior in every way. 

 

LT CALHOUN  He might be leading this expedition, Commander, but he’s no General. And he’s certainly not my “superior” for all the innocent women and children he’s slaughtered over the last few months while we moved across the plains .

 

The Sergeant and Bloody Knife slowly release the officers.

 

 

CM CALHOUN  Innocent? Innocent! These savages, these  spits  Sioux, are our enemy. They’d kill you as soon as look at you.

 

LT CALHOUN  Don’t let your connections cloud your judgement. Just because you’re married to the ‘General’s’ sister does not mean he is any better than your own flesh and blood.

 

CM CALHOUN  General Custer is more family to me than you ever will be, ‘Brother’.

 

Lieutenant Calhoun is obviously hurt by this.

 

 

CM CALHOUN  We may share the same mother but make no mistake I am your commanding officer. My orders, from GENERAL Custer, are clear. We will hunt down the savages and kill them.  with real malice  Because they deserve it.

 

LT CALHOUN  If that were true, why do we have people like Bloody Knife working with us? Doesn’t your ‘General’ call Bloody Knife his brother?

 

Bloody Knife nods at this but says nothing.

There is silence as Commander Calhoun feels outwitted.

 

 

CM CALHOUN  Don’t try and change the subject Frankie. You’re team has fallen behind and this time big brother can’t help you along.

 

LT CALHOUN  Don’t talk to me like that. 

CM CALHOUN  We are not back home in Cincinnati now, Frankie. You can’t go crying to momma when 4 thousand Indians want your scalp.

 

LT CALHOUN  Shut your mouth, Jimmy.

 

CM CALHOUN  Always the same little Frankie. nastily mimicking  “I’m not strong enough to help out at home”. “I’m not strong enough to help Pop”. 

LT CALHOUN  I’ll tell you once more. Shut your mouth, Jimmy.

 

CM CALHOUN  mimicking again  “I’m not strong enough to fight on the front line”. “I’m not strong enough to carry a little gun”.  

 

LT CALHOUN  Yes. Yes! I’m not strong like you. I just want to be free of you. Free of everyone.

 

CM CALHOUN  Ha, you want to be free? And you joined the Army?

 

LT CALHOUN  sorrowful  At home I wanted to be free from the house. Free from all the ‘expectation’ of being a ‘Calhoun’. Free from fighting with mom. And pop.

 

CM CALHOUN  laughing  And now look where you are. In hostile Indian country. Where every day could be your last. I know I’d rather be fighting mom.

 

LT CALHOUN  I can’t go on... fighting. Always fighting.

 

Commander Calhoun misses the point.

The Cmdr hugs his brother.

 

 

CM CALHOUN  We’re here to fight. That’s what you and I are doing. You and me, little brother. That’s why you’re here. To be with me. Us together. Fighting together. 

 

LT CALHOUN  I don’t care. I really don’t... care. Any more. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what my fight is.

CM CALHOUN   Then what ARE you fighting for?

 

 

TRACK 2: INDEPENDENCE DAY

 

Sung by Lieutenant Frank Calhoun.

 

The soldiers of the fort listen 

in the background. 

 

My Independence Day.

Fighting for my independence!

I won’t be able to explain away

More than I know my inventions can do.

My life without you

Much the same as my life with you.

It’s a game we cannot choose

That will have to do.

 

I feel a difference

I encounter no resistance

Try to keep it all to myself

That will have to do

That will have to do.

 

The soldiers of the fort begin

to dance a country waltz

behind the Lieutenant.

 

Now my Magellan days

Tossed with my ships, all around in the waves

There must be a better way

Lost in the sea and there’s no one to save.

 

Caught in the weather

At the end of my own private tether.

Try to keep it all to myself

That will never do.

 

My life in pieces,

On my own my body seizes.

Anything that I can cling to.

That will never do.

That will never do.

 

Whaaaaaaaooooooooooooo!

 

My life without you

Much the same as my life with you.

It’s a game we cannot lose

That will never do.

 

My Independence Day.

Fighting for my independence!

(Chorus: My Independence Day)

 

The fort soldiers sing the chorus

in brackets.

 

My Independence Day.

Fighting for my independence!

(Chorus: My Independence)

 

My Independence Day.

Fighting for my independence!

(Chorus: My Independence Day)

 

The scene continues in the US Army fort.

 

 

CM CALHOUN  Well woopty-doo.  he slow claps  None of that matters unless you hurry up with that gun.

 

SGT CARNEY  Sir, we movin’ as fast as we can.

 


© Copyright 2018 Custer. All rights reserved.

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