Marion Native Survived Little Big Horn

Published 10:44 am Thursday, September 8, 2016

MARION — I brake for historical markers.

Returning from a day-long drive through the northwest North Carolina mountains on Labor Day, I pulled to the curb when I saw a state marker in a residential district. It read: “DANIEL KANIPE 1853-1926. Survived Battle of Little Bighorn, 1876. A soldier in 7th U.S. cavalry, he witnessed defeat of Geo. A. Custer. Lived here.”

A survivor? Who knew?

During the battle, Sgt. Kanipe and another soldier were dispatched from Custer’s battalion with a message to fetch a trailing supply mule train. Those in the supply unit led by Capt. Frederick Benteen watched helplessly from afar as Custer and his 256-man unit were slaughtered. Benteen refused to allow the two couriers to return to their unit.

Kanipe helped identify the dead, and his eye witness account of the battle was the fodder for historians for the rest of his life.

An Indian fighter with many battles under his belt, Kanipe left the Army a year after Little Big Horn and returned to his McDowell County farm, but historians never stopped asking him for more details of Custer’s Last Stand. In 1908, he returned to the battlefield one last time on a publicity tour to raise money to preserve the site and graves.

Getting home, I immediately called my son-in-law native of Marion and quizzed him about his hometown’s most famous son.

No, no, he said. Marion’s most famous son is honored by a relatively new Carolina-blue historic marker close to City Hall that I had failed to spot.

Marion is also the hometown of UNC basketball Coach Roy Williams, the modern day hero.

• • • • •

Elizabeth and I went on a circuitous journey on Labor Day to many places I had never been in Iredell, Alexander, Caldwell, Watauga, Avery, Mitchell and McDowell counties. In Newland, we got out to examine the courthouse and found a veterans memorial that listed all the Avery sons who ever served in the various wars of the past century. We stopped at the nearby Shady Lawn Motel that once boasted it was “Air Conditioned By Nature.” After a major fire, the rooms were equipped with man-made air conditioning.

We failed to find a marker dedicated to native son N.C. State basketball great Tommy Burleson.

• • • • •

Atop Roan Mountain, Tenn., we walked through the rhododendron gardens that attract many tourists when they are in bloom in June. I vowed to come back to hike over the bald Roan Mountain section of the Appalachian Trail one day.

In Mitchell County we visited the relatively new courthouse built atop a mountain overlooking Bakersville. The building has 12-inch letters proclaiming “IN GOD WE TRUST” over both the front door and the back. The old courthouse is now a museum in the town below.

In Spruce Pine we spotted a huge wall of white rock and dirt, remnants of the feldspar mines that once were active. A train track runs through town. We stopped at the Market on Oak crafts store opened in 2003 when author Gloria Houston donated the rights of her book, “The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree” to the town.

We read the book every Christmas Eve … and wipe away our tears.

— Dwight Sparks