1876 – Custer is defeated and killed at Little Bighorn

General George Armstrong Custer went into battle at Little Big Horn under a number of false impressions.

He was under the impression that he would be facing no more than 800 Native Americans, rather than more than twice that number – Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse had recruited assiduously, knowing that a battle was coming. He was under the impression that his major challenge would be preventing the escape of the enemy forces, rather than defeating them. And finally, he was under the impression, based on these assumptions, that the force under the command of his subordinate Major Reno would be far more effective in battle than it proved.

But with Reno’s forces isolated and routed, Custer’s forces were outnumbered and surrendered. More than 200 men in Custer’s army, including Custer himself, were killed.

Referenced in:

Custer – Johnny Cash
General Custer – Swan
Jim Bridger – Johnny Horton
Little Big Horn – Running Wild
I Love America – Alice Cooper
Custer Had It Coming – Redbone
Custer Song – Buffy Sainte-Marie
The Punch Line – The Minutemen
Custer Died A-Runnin’ – David Wilkie
Some Fool Made A Soldier Of Me – The Kingston Trio
Please Mister Custer, I Don’t Wanna Go – Larry Verne
History is Made By Stupid People – The Arrogant Worms

1948 – Caryl Chessman is convicted and sentenced to death

Convicted of 17 assorted counts of rape, robbery and kidnapping in 1948, Chessman was sentenced to death by the state of California. (Kidnapping at that time was punished by execution in California). But there were irregularities in his case and Chessman asserted his innocence from the very beginning. After his conviction, there were many appeals, and Chessman would wind up spending a then-record 11 years and ten months on Death Row, with no fewer than 8 stays of execution.

The eventual execution of Caryl Chessman was one of the most controversial in American history. He was finally executed in the gas chamber in 1960, but his death had become a cause célèbre for those who opposed the death penalty. It was largely as a result of Chessman’s case that California made the death penalty more restrictive in application, removing kidnapping as a charge attracting that penalty.

Referenced in:
Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond
The Ballad of Caryl Chessman — Ronnie Hawkins

1950 – The Korean War begins

The Korean War was caused by the conditions holding since the end of World War Two. Korea had been split in half along the 38th parallel, with the USSR holding the north and the USA holding the south. As each sponsor state helped its occupied area to set up their own government, the two Koreas moved in increasingly different directions. Although negotiations for reunification continued almost up to the outbreak of war, tensions rose throughout the period especially from 1948 onwards.

On June 25th, 1950, North Korean forces poured over the border into South Korea, and the war began. The South Koreans were swiftly joined by a US-led coalition backed by the United Nations (the USSR was boycotting the UN Security Council at this point, and was thus unable to veto this action). The would last into 1953, costing hundreds of thousands of lives, until a ceasfire was negotiated, with the border still set roughly at the 38th parallel with little change to its pre-war location.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1959 – Charles Starkweather is executed for murder

One of the earliest modern spree killers, Charles Starkweather was responsible for the deaths of eleven people in Nebraska and Wyoming between December 1, 1957 and January 29, 1958, when he and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, were captured.

Starkweather tried to shield Fugate from the legal consequences of her participation in some of the killings, but his story changed too many times to be taken seriously. She was sentenced to life in prison, and he got the chair. At one minute past midnight on June 25, 1959, Charles Starkweather, who still showed little remorse, was executed by electrocution in the Nebraska State Penitentiary.

Referenced in:

Nebraska — Bruce Springsteen