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Wild West - October 2009 - Letters from Readers

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: August 07, 2009 
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'Those animals on the Navajo Reservation are crossbred Angora goats. Yes, the Navajos also raise sheep, but those are hair goats'

Custer's Complexion
I loved the article "Squaring Custer's Triangle," by John Koster, in the June 2009 issue of Wild West, but I was wondering about the cover photo. George Armstrong Custer seems to have small black spots over his entire face. Could these be powder burns or from some other accident in the Civil War? Thanks. Love your magazine and keep them all for reading years later.

Don Riley
Katy, Texas

The editor responds: Maybe a little sunburn but no powder burns. The photograph (colorized for the June cover and reprinted above in black and white) was one of a series of Custer portraits taken at the Mathew Brady studio on May 23, 1865, the day of the Grand Review in Washington, D.C. Here is Libbie Custer's description of her husband: "His eyes were clear blue and deeply set, his hair short, wavy and golden in tint. His mustache was long and tawny in color; his complexion was florid, except where his forehead was shaded by his hat, for the sun always burned his skin ruthlessly." And he had lots of freckles to boot.

Donovan and Custer
I am in receipt of the June 2009 issue of Wild West and am very disturbed by the photo on P. 14 showing author James Donovan leaning casually on the grave marker of George A. Custer. It shows a huge lack of respect for a fallen soldier. Further, what is Donovan doing inside the fenced enclosure on Last Stand Hill? He should be outside, looking in, like the rest of the visitors.

Michael R. Clark
Billings, Mont.

Jim Donovan responds: I understand Mr. Clark's concern, but George Armstrong Custer is not buried there—his remains were relocated to West Point, where he was buried with high honors. And that marker doesn't even denote the spot where he was killed; he was actually found higher up on the hill. I have the greatest respect for Custer and anyone who serves our country, fallen or otherwise (my father was a World War II veteran). As for my presence inside the fenced enclosure: In researching my book, I requested and received special written permission from the battlefield superintendent to walk on areas of the battlefield not usually open to visitors.

Mule Offspring
I enjoyed the February 2009 story "The Hybrid Beast That Built the West," by Charles M. Robinson III. However, having taken genetics in college, I have a few questions. First is that many other animal species crosses, usually called hybrids, are sterile. If these mules are not sterile, then the offspring of two mule crosses would most likely be as follows: One would probably be 25 percent donkey and 75 percent horse, two would be half mule and half horse, and one would be 25 percent horse and 75 percent donkey. By continually breeding the pure mules, you would get eventually an animal that would be as you described. At the same time, you can see that there would be all percentages of donkey-horse mixed blood. At least that is the way I remember species crosses work.

Don Riley
Katy, Texas

The editor responds: I barely made it through high school biology (teacher's sharp name was Mr. Cutler), but I am told that horses have 64 chromosomes and donkeys have 62 chromosomes. A male donkey and a female horse produce a mule. The less easily obtained offspring of a male horse and a female donkey is called a hinny. Mules and hinnies are sterile except in rare cases when a female mule can carry a fetus. That's about all I think I know, except that on the old television program Gunsmoke (which, by the way, was recently named the all-time Best TV Western by the Western Writers of America—see "Roundup" in this issue), Marshal Dillon's sidekick, Festus, rode a mule. He seemed to love her very much; her name was Ruth.

Sheep or Goats?
As a retired journalist, I never rejoiced getting a correction, but I did appreciate it when an error was called to my attention. On P. 56 of the June 2009 issue, the caption on the lower image is wrong. Those animals on the Navajo Reservation are crossbred Angora goats. Yes, the Navajos also raise sheep, but those are hair goats. The long-horned goat on the right is a buck (male), and the others appear to be does (females). Folks raised in the Southwest will quickly recognize these animals. Meanwhile, keep up the good work. You folks produce a fine history magazine.

Ross McSwain
San Angelo, Texas

The editor responds: I appreciate the correction, Mr. McSwain. I must have had my mind on mules and hinnies.

Moose or Elk?
The caption for the middle photograph on P. 34 of the June 2009 issue states, "A stuffed moose gazes at passersby from the porch roof of the Missouri Building." The animal is not a moose—it's an elk!

Connie Wimbish
Nokomis, Fla.

Having grown up along the Rio Grande in central New Mexico in the railroad, ranching and farming town of Belen, I have really enjoyed your magazine.

Just a note about the photo on P. 34 of the June issue: "A stuffed moose gazes…" Looks like elk antlers to me.

Tom Turrentine
Albuquerque, N.M.

The editor responds: I appreciate this correction, too—made in writing by more than a dozen eagle-eyed readers from Randy "Hoosier Horsemen" Watters in Warsaw, Ind., to Tom "Missouri Moose" Emerson in Lexington, Mo. But can anyone tell a mule from a hinny?

Send letters to Wild West, 19300 Promenade Dr., Leesburg, VA 20176, or e-mail us at WildWest@weiderhistorygroup.com. Include name, city and phone number.



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