Although George Armstrong Custer was a career soldier, a graduate of West Point who served creditably with the 5th Cavalry in the American Civil War, his name is remembered solely for the Battle Of The Little Big Horn, which resulted in the slaughter of his entire detachment when he ran into numerically superior Indian forces. The massacre, which claimed the lives of over two hundred men including Custer himself, was the greatest defeat inflicted on the US Army by Native American warriors, but from here on in it was all downhill for the once mighty Cheyenne and Sioux, as history attests.
The Battle Of The Little Big Horn gave White Americans little to sing about, so it is hardly surprising that songs from or about this era concentrate on more palettable subjects such as lost love as in "Lorena" or on comic matters as in "Where Did You Get That Hat?"
It was only three quarters of a century later that Custer's last stand was immortalized in song, with the whimsical "Mr Custer", which was written by Al DeLong, Fred Darian and Joseph Van Winkle. Larry Verne worked in a photographer's studio down the hall from their office, and after hearing his Southern drawl there was only one person who could record the song.
According to Steve Otfinoski in The Golden Age Of Novelty Songs, the demo was turned down repeatedly, possibly because originally it ran to four and a half minutes. A shorter version was taken up by Era Records, and backed by "Okeefenokee Two Step", it became the biggest selling novelty record of the year.
Actually, Larry Verne wasn't the only artist to record "Mr Custer"; while Verne's recording was available in the UK on the London label, the English comedian Charlie Drake recorded a version on the Beatles' original Parlophone label. This version, backed by "Glow Worm," was heavily Anglicized, including a curious substitution in one of the spoken lines.
While Verne asks what is the "Injun" word for friend and answers "Kemo Sabe" - the name Tonto called the Lone Ranger - Drake answers the same question with maņana - the Spanish for the indefinite tomorrow.
"Mr Custer" is sung and narrated by a chicken-livered soldier who might have better served with the mythical F Troop. Larry Verne not only sung the part but dressed for it.