On June 25, 1876, three Schuylkill County soldiers rode among the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army under the command of George Armstrong Custer toward the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
On Sunday, November 15 at Eckley Miners Village, a dramatic reading by Stu Richards and Tommy Symons-actors and balladeers who present mining heritage folk songs as the Breaker Boys, and narrator, Bobby Maso, told the story of those troopers: Private George Adams from Minersville, Private Herman Knauch from Brandonville, and farrier William Heath from Tamaqua.
Adams and Knauch were among the battalion of five of the 7th Cavalry's companies led by Custer that were annihilated. Heath, who was assigned to a flanking battalion led by Major Marcus Reno, was among the survivors.
"Stu is quite a historian on Custer and the 7th Cavalry," said Tommy Symons. "He's one of the more learned persons in the area. When people are doing stuff, they come to him about it. It's one of his pet projects."
"I have a big interest in military history and the 7th Cavalry," said Stu Richards. "It was quite interesting to find that we actually had three people that were at the Battle of the Little Bighorn from Schuylkill County where we both are from."
They chose to base their dramatic presentation on the two soldiers that perished at Little Big Horn.
The presentation, Fiddler's Green, owes its title to a poem from an unknown poet. The poem which reflects the horrors of fighting the Indian wars, begins,
"Halfway down the trail to Hell,
In a shady meadow green
Are the Souls of all dead troopers camped,"
"And put your pistol to your head
And go to Fiddlers' Green."
From Army records and news reports, Richard assembled these re-creations of the two Schuylkill privates.
Born in Minersville in 1826, George Adams spent his childhood working in collieries and coal mines. To escape that future, at the age of 23, he moved to the Dakota Territory where he enlisted as a private in the US Army. He was court marshaled several times.
In 1872, he accompanied Custer on the Yellowstone Expedition. He became sick and was discharged. When he recovered, he reenlisted-this time joining the 7th Calvary. He was again court marshaled for being absent and for being drunk on duty.
Private Herman Knauch from Brandonville was born in Prussia. He moved around and in 1872 he joined the US Army in Rochester.
The expansion of the United States had moved eastern settlers into Native American lands. Treaties made with the Indians were broken when gold was discovered in the Black Hills. Chiefs Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and Gall left the reservations in distrust of the white men who had lied to them. The U.S. government sent the 7th Calvary to destroy the Indian insurrection and lay waste to their villages.
George Armstrong Custer was chosen to lead the expedition. Custer was in the bottom of his class at West Point. He would not have had a command had not the Civil War broken out in his last year of military school.
At the conclusion of the Civil War, Custer was promoted to he was promoted to Brevet Major General of Volunteers, and Lieutenant Colonel in the newly created 7th Calvary. He was convicted for being AWOL, after having abandoned his post to see his wife. The punishment was cut short when he was selected to join an Expedition against the Cheyenne in 1867.
In 1873, Custer was sent to the Dakota Territory to protect a railroad survey party against the Sioux. In 1874, he led an expedition into the Black Hills and announced the discovery of gold on French Creek. Custer's announcement triggered the Black Hills Gold Rush.
To control the Black Hills territory, the U.S. required the Indians to move to new reservations by January 31, 1876, or be considered hostile. Under Sitting Bull, the Indians resisted and instead gathered the largest number of plains Indians ever assembled. They would later gather at the Little Bighorn River.
Custer's 7th Calvary set out to destroy the Indian uprising, not realizing that the Indians had assembled 2,000 warriors. Custer had about 700 men. His Indian scouts had warned him that the Indian army looked "like worms in the grass." Custer could not apprehend the Indians assembling such a large force.
That day, Custer had awoken his troops at 2 a.m. and had them ride until 5 p.m. They were tired when the attack began. Custer divided his command into three groups, the other two led by Captain Benteen and Major Reno. The rest of the story is not well understood since none of Custer's force of 210 men survived.
"They must have felt scared. They were tired and worn out," Richards said. "They had a saying in the 7th Cavalry, 'save the last bullet for yourself' because they were fearful of what the Indians would do to them if they captured them."