the summer of 1876, in the valley of the Greasy Grass, the Lakota name for the course of the Little Big Horn River, a contingent of the 7th cavalry of United States Army troops under Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer fought, and were defeated by, a large force of Native American warriors. This provided “the groundwork... for one of the most universal and enduring legends of all time” . Subsequently, in the United States, “300 books, 45 movies and 1000 paintings” have been produced to describe or explain what happened.young
No other single event in American history has captured the public imagination more completely. The legend gave rise to such contortions as Custeriana, and Custerphiles. In such circumstances can the ‘truth’ ever be discovered?
He was disliked by his men, including officers. During April 1867 85 men deserted from the 7th Cavalry, and Albert Barnitz wrote in his journal, referring to Custer resentfully and sarcastically :”the ‘Brevet Major General commanding’ is fast losing whatever little influence for good he may have once had in the Regiment, and… he ………will eventually come to grief , as a consequence of his tyrannical conduct.” He drove his men too hard, according to Corporal Jacob Horner, who served under him: “He was too hard on the men and the horses. He changed his mind too often. He was always right. He never conferred enough with his officers. When he had a notion we had to go”.
His ‘understanding’ of native Americans did not stop him lying and cheating and going back on his word. Riding out in March 1869 Custer managed to make contact with the bands of Southern Cheyenne led by Little Robe and Medicine Arrows. Their villages consisted mainly of the members and families of the ‘dog soldier’ warrior society which led the people in warfare. Custer treacherously captured four warriors under the flag of truce. He threatened to hang three of them, and the other was sent to the villages to communicate their plight. In this way Custer extracted promises that the dog soldiers would come in to the reservation at Camp Supply. Understandably they never complied with their ‘promise’ but, being men of honour themselves; they must have held Custer in contemptatlantic
he had more flaws than most and failed to learn from what little experience he had of fighting native Americans. A more intelligent man would have learned from that alone. In general the native Americans were only engaged in battle when they wished it to happen. In keeping with the US military generally Custer misinterpreted the normal native American practice of strategic withdrawal as an unwillingness to fight, when in fact they were protecting their families. Custer should have realized this when he escaped by the skin of his teeth at the Washita River when he was caught out attacking a peaceful village nearly ten years before the Battle of the Little Big Horn. The engagement at the Washita was Custer’s only previous engagement with native Americans before his ‘Last Stand’. It is difficult to contemplate how his superiors could put a man in charge who had as many suspensions from duty as ‘Indian’ engagements to his name.