A last stand didn’t mean that the person subjected to the stand had to die, I supposed. I looked to the modern era and examined the curious case of Ted Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber, for the final of this series of final stands. His last stand happened at an isolated cabin in the wilderness, ending more with a whimper than a bang. A critical mistake made by the overconfident evil genius led to his ruin.
Before the Bombings
Kaczynski didn’t like modern technology and he blamed it for the ills of society. He lived according to his practices, moving to a one-room cabin completely lacking any amenities in rural Montana, preferring the world of a hermit. He demonstrated remarkable intelligence in spite of his lack of social skills. Kaczynski entered Harvard University at the age of 16 and became an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley by the time he turned 25. That lasted only a couple of years and he moved to his cabin in 1971, not yet 30 years old. He didn’t fit in well with society.
A Terrible Turn of Events
His reclusive behavior seemed unusual although it remained legally acceptable. He was simply another loner who preferred a life of solitude. However his distaste for the modern world progressed to a deadlier level. He began to craft homemade bombs that he delivered or mailed to technologists at universities and research facilities. He also managed to slip a bomb onto a passenger jet that would have taken it down except that the device started smoking and failed to detonate. Federal agencies searching for a suspect used the code name UNABOM for University and Airline Bomber. The press changed it to Unabomber.
Kaczynski’s terrorist acts continued for many years, from 1978 to 1995. They involved sixteen separate bombs, three deaths and a score of injuries. His spree could have lasted indefinitely except that Kaczynski actually wanted to change the world. He drafted a rambling manifesto condemning the failings of modern society. Kaczynski said that he would halt the bombings if major news organizations published his beliefs verbatim. Federal officials convinced both the New York Times and the Washington Post to print the document, a hugely controversial decision at the time. They hoped someone might recognize its distinct writing style and turn-in the bomber. That’s exactly what happened. Linda Patrik, Ted’s sister-in-law, had a suspension and convinced her husband David to take a look. David Kaczynski was Ted’s brother and noticed an immediate similarity. That was the break the case need and the FBI arrested Ted Kaczynski at his mountainside cabin.
Twelve Mile Circle couldn’t identify the exact spot of the cabin where the last stand took place. It happened somewhere several miles south of Lincoln, Montana (map). The property was for sale as recently as 2010 however, so I’m sure someone could find the spot without too much effort. It wouldn’t do much good because the cabin was removed. The FBI took it away and loaned it to the Newseum in Washington, DC (map) where it became part of an exhibit.
I recently received a page from the Washington Post, June 19, 2008, page A9. This comprises a full-page, full-color advertisement that features my cabin, which is being exhibited publicly at something called a ‘Newseum,’ … Since the advertisement states that the cabin is ‘FROM FBI VAULT,’ it is clear that the government is responsible for the public exhibition of the cabin. This has obvious relevance to the victims’ objection to publicity connected with the Unabom case.
Ted’s New Home
Ted’s still very much alive even now, so many years later. A judge sentenced him to eight life terms in prison without the possibility of parole. He currently spends his days at the federal Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado (map). Authorities designed this prison for the worst of the worst criminals, with restrictions a level beyond maximum security, a so-called supermax facility. Here Ted will remain with other notorious villains such as Eric Rudolph (Olympic Park bomber), Zacarias Moussaoui (helped plan the 9-11 attacks on the World Trace Center and the Pentagon), Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Boston Marathon bomber), Terry Nichols (Oklahoma City Federal Building bomber); and Robert Hanssen (notorious spy for the Soviet Union) until he dies. ADX will truly become Kaczynski’s final last stand.
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow earned instant fame during the gangster era of the 1930’s. They and their gang were despicable people, common thugs and criminals. They also practiced extreme violence, killing numerous people including nine police officers. They robbed banks and shops through midland America, from Minnesota down to the Gulf states, with much of their activity focused in Texas and Louisiana.
Bonnie and Clyde came from the Dallas, Texas area, both surviving tough childhoods in poverty. Clyde became a hardened criminal at a young age with a string of arrests and a serious prison record by the time he turned 21 years old. Bonnie didn’t become a criminal until she met Clyde, gladly tagging along on a multi-state crime spree. They quickly captured the imagination of the public in an era when women weren’t generally thought of as gangsters. Undoubtedly, the romantic angle of criminal lovebirds with rifles also piqued interest.
They mastered quirks of geography, oddly enough. Bonnie and Clyde understood the power of state borders and the limitations of law enforcement. Their crimes fell within the jurisdiction of state enforcement. They committing crimes near state borders and simply slipping across the line to neighboring states to escape. That simple trick kept them a step ahead of the law.
The duo made a series of mistakes during a brief hideaway in Joplin, Missouri. Otherwise they may have remained unknown to the public. They needed to lay low for awhile with members of their extended gang and selected a garage apartment at 3347½ Oak Ridge Drive (map). Joplin offered quick access to Kansas and Oklahoma should the gang need to flee. They located out of site in a quiet neighborhood. Then they got drunk every night and made lots of noise into the late hours. Neighbors contacted police to report rowdy behavior, not because anyone suspected a house full of armed robbers. Police thought they were busting bootleggers when they raided the apartment on April 13, 1933. Instead they encountered a pack of killers who opened fire. Two policemen died and the gang escaped.
However they fled in a hurry, leaving most their belongings behind including identification papers and a camera with rolls of undeveloped film. Images included Bonnie and Clyde acting as a happy couple, posing with weapons, and acting lovingly tough. One iconic image showed Bonny with a cigar and a pistol in a very unladylike manner. Images hit the newswires immediately, and became front page material in newspapers around the nation. Bonnie, Clyde and the newly-dubbed Barrow Gang became instant celebrities.
They lived in the apartment for less than two weeks. However the trove of photographs created a myth that resonated with the public, catapulting the couple into instant fame for all the wrong reasons. The significance of this location justified its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. It even had its own website.
Their fixation on geography eventually became their undoing. The state of Texas called a retired Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer, to hunt down Bonnie and Clyde in 1934. He understood the geography and also saw that the gang traveled in a predictable manner. Notably they visited family members upon occasion. Hamer assembled several Texas and Louisiana officers to negate the border issues, then on a hunch, began a stakeout along a secluded country road. He guessed correctly. Bonnie and Clyde rambled down that road in the middle of nowhere near Gibsland, Louisiana, and drove straight into an ambush (map). The officers never attempted to stop the duo, they simply opened fire with automatic rifles and finished the job with shotguns. Lawmen emptied 130 rounds into the stolen 1932 Ford V-8 automobile, riddling Bonnie and Clyde with lead and killing them on the spot.
The Bienville Parish police department erected a stone monument at the site of the ambush. Vandals shot it repeatedly, leaving it damaged and pockmarked. I supposed it seemed appropriate given what happened to Bonnie and Clyde on that same spot.
The Twelve Mile Circle audience would be forgiven for not wanting to travel all the way to Gibsland, Louisiana, to see where Bonnie and Clyde died. One could still see where they died, their actual car, in a more accessible location. Whiskey Pete’s casino in Primm, Nevada put the car on exhibit in recent years along with the tattered shirt Clyde wore at his death (map).
I thought Bonnie and Clyde might approve. Primm sat directly beside the border, barely inside Nevada. A spectral Barrow Gang could ride again and escape into California in a pinch.
John Wilkes Booth‘s last stand was by no means the only infamous last stand. It got me thinking about a wide range of other events from the last couple of hundred years that might fall within the same general guidelines. Last stands happened in many places in many times. I selected a few from the multitude of instances available and fixated on them. Custer’s Last Stand, well, that would practically be synonymous with the definition of a last stand. In fact that was the first thing that popped into my mind as I expanded past Booth. Undoubtedly that notion would be the same for much of the Twelve Mile Circle audience. I couldn’t simply skip it — that would be a glaring omission — so George Armstrong Custer needed a closer examination.
The spot where Custer died, the place of his last stand, was considerably better known than his birthplace. I figured I’d have a difficult time finding it because I didn’t think anyone would really care except for maybe me and a handful of other people fascinated by such things. I guessed wrong. People apparently did care. In fact I even found a Custer Memorial Association in New Rumley, Ohio, at Custer’s 1839 birthplace. They operated a small museum "open the last Sunday of each month from 1:00 to 4:00pm." They also maintained a roadside park open year round on the site of the original Custer homestead, of which little remained except for the foundation of the house where he was born (map).
However Custer spent much of his childhood in Monroe, Michigan, with the family of his half-sister.
The people of Monroe erected a monument to Custer after his death (map). He probably got a monument everywhere he ever set foot, or so it seemed, although some hadn’t fared well. Even the citizens of Monroe, a place where he spent much of his childhood, relocated the monument a bunch of times including sticking it out in the woods where vegetation overgrew it, before moving the statue to a more prominent part of town. Officially it was known as the George Armstrong Custer Equestrian Monument, alternately Sighting the Enemy.
Famously, Custer finished last in his class at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. However it was 1861, the Civil War was just underway, and the military needed officers in a hurry so they pressed him into service anyway. He performed remarkably well once in a combat role.
Throughout the war Custer continued to distinguishing himself as fearless, aggressive, and ostentatious. His personalized uniform style, complete with a red neckerchief could be somewhat alienating, but he was successful in gaining the respect of his men with his willingness to lead attacks from the front rather than the back.
Custer quickly moved up the ranks, becoming brigadier general then brevet major general of the U.S. Army and finally major general of the U.S. Volunteers in quick succession. He was only 23 years old when he first became a general, the youngest in the army. Custer also served the entire lengthy of the conflict, from Bull Run to Appomattox. At Gettysburg, he commanded the Michigan Cavalry Brigade that was instrumental in stopping a Confederate cavalry attack on the Union army’s right flank. He got a nice monument for that too. Actually, the entire Michigan Cavalry Brigade earned the monument although Custer’s image appeared in a circular bas-relief sculpture just about half way up (map).
I mentioned all of that service because people tended to overlook his distinguished career and skip right to the ending.
Twelve Mile Circle is not a history website so I’ll only discuss the Last Stand briefly. There were plenty of other places on the Intertubes, or even entire books, where one could get a better account. Custer died on the battlefield near Montana’s Little Bighorn River in 1876 (map). The United States Army had a rule-of-thumb, naming battles for the nearest body of water during that period (e.g., the Civil War’s Battle of Bull Run and Battle of Antietam) so the engagement came to be known as the Battle of Little Bighorn.
The situation leading up to it brewed for a long time. The government had been forcing Plains Indians onto reservations for awhile by that point. Various elements of the Lakota and Cheyenne resisted fiercely, sparking a whole chain of events known as the Sioux Wars. The final outrage in the eyes of native inhabitants had been a sudden incursion of settlers into the Black Hills of what is now South Dakota. The Sioux considered this a sacred area that had been promised to them in a treaty. That quickly collapsed after word leaked out about gold found in the area. Many bands, fed up with broken promises, left the reservations in an effort to fight for their ancestral lands.
The government began a protracted, coordinated campaign to crush resistance. Custer hadn’t gone out there alone, he simple commanded one force amongst several crossing the plains from late 1875 and into the first half of 1876 trying to tame the rebellion. However Custer made a huge blunder. His aggressive personality that served him well during the Civil War compelled him to rush headlong into battle without understanding the true situation at Little Bighorn.
He thought he was attacking a small encampment. Instead he led 700 men from the 7th Cavalry Regiment headlong into a force three times its size. Sitting Bull’s forces quickly turned the tables and utterly destroyed Custer and his men in less than an hour. Casualties also included Custer’s two brother, Thomas and Boston. Later historical accounts by members of the tribes expressed complete bewilderment that Custer would attack them when they were so strong.